Hong Kong Democrats Vow Protests to Continue Despite 'Defeat'

Former Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa smiles as he addresses a news conference in Hong Kong, Sept. 3, 2014.

Hong Kong's beleaguered pro-democracy movement has vowed to push ahead with protests this week, while conceding defeat after the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislative body, ruled out universal suffrage in 2017 elections.

Students in the city said they will boycott classes for a week beginning Sept. 22, despite claims by official Chinese media that the Occupy Central movement is quickly losing support.

"Yes, that's right," a student who answered the phone at the Hong Kong Federation of Student Unions said on Wednesday when asked to confirm reports of the boycott. "But you shouldn't report it for the time being; we'll be in touch [when our leader Alex Chow is here]."

China's English-language Global Times newspaper said in an opinion article on Wednesday that Hong Kong opinion is now swinging against the Occupy movement, which has threatened mass protests in the city's financial center if Beijing refuses to allow a genuine choice of candidates in the city's 2017 leadership election.

"Many influential media outlets in Hong Kong in their Monday editorials sought to persuade the pan-democratic camp either to accept the NPC's decision or keep communicating with the central government," the Global Times said.

"They stated explicitly that they don't want Hong Kong to be dragged into chaos," it said.

The article said "Western-style democracy" isn't a suitable option for the former British colony, which was promised a "high degree of autonomy" under the terms of its 1997 handover to Chinese rule.

"It's risky for small societies like Hong Kong and Taiwan to operate Western-style politics," the article said. "We hope Hong Kong can maintain its status as an economic hub."

It said the pro-democracy movement was "the weakness of Hong Kong society."

Former ‘diehard’

Meanwhile, Jeff Tsui, formerly one of the 10 "diehards" at the heart of Occupy Central, announced his withdrawal via the pro-Beijing Sing Pao newspaper.

Hedge-fund manager and fellow diehard Edward C.K. Chin told RFA he believes that Tsui had come under intense political pressure from Beijing.

Chin, whose own pro-democracy column in the Hong Kong Economic Journal newspaper was axed on Tuesday, said Tsui had declined to give a reason when contacted by phone on Wednesday.

"This came out in the Sing Pao, but when it was written, and who wrote it, [it's hard to say]," Chin said.

He said the style of writing was nothing like Tsui's usual style.

"He used the word 'illegal,' and he didn't use 'citizen resistance,'" Chin said.

"I tried to speak to him, via [messaging service] WhatsApp, but he said it wasn't convenient to talk," he said.

"I think he is very likely having his [mainland business] accounts frozen across his business network," Chin added.

In the article, Tsui said he had undergone "a change of attitude" and that he now opposes "illegal methods to fight for democracy."

"In particular," the article said, "I am against young people breaking the law."

"I am making the decision to withdraw independently, and I am not under any pressure," it said.

‘Chief obstacle’

But veteran activist and democratic lawmaker Leung Kwok Hung, known by his nickname "Long Hair," said the ruling Chinese Communist Party has been the chief obstacle to democracy in the region for decades.

"They seem to have forgotten the criminal actions of 25 years ago were carried out by themselves," Leung said in a reference to the military crackdown on student-led pro-democracy protests on Tiananmen Square.

"If the Chinese Communist Party had listened to the people during the patriotic democratic movement of 1989, we would have universal suffrage in mainland China by now, let alone Hong Kong," he said.

Former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten, who shed tears during the 1997 handover ceremony, said Britain has a moral and political obligation to ensure China respects its commitments.

"We have a huge stake in the well-being of Hong Kong, with a political system in balance with its economic freedom," Patten wrote in a letter to the Financial Times.

The U.K. parliament has rejected Chinese calls to scrap an inquiry into Hong Kong's progress towards democracy.

No longer 1997

Beijing hit out at the decision on Wednesday.

"Today's Hong Kong is not the Hong Kong of 1997," foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told a regular news briefing in Beijing.

"The affairs of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region are China's domestic affairs, and we oppose outside interference in those affairs in any form," Qin said.

Choy Chi-keung, senior lecturer in government at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the U.K. government has done little to support the aspirations of protesters for full universal suffrage.

"Recently, the U.K. government has placed greater emphasis on its trade and economic ties with China, and when Prime Minister David Cameron visited China, he didn't really mention the question of human rights and democracy in Hong Kong at all," Choy told RFA on Wednesday.

"The U.K. parliament may have begun an enquiry into the implementation of the [1984] Sino-British Joint Declaration, but whether this indicates any change in London's policy, it's too early to say," Choy said.

Meanwhile, Patten's immediate successor, shipping magnate Tung Chee-hwa, called on all sides to work together to resolve growing political tensions.

"Hong Kong is our home, we have to work together," the Beijing-appointed Tung, 77, said in a speech.

"The only way out, and the only way forward, is through working together, hand in hand; otherwise there will be no end to bitter squabbles and the paralysis," he said.

Tung was ousted two years early following a mass anti-government rally against proposed anti-subversion laws in 2005.

Some 800,000 people voted in an informal referendum run by the Occupy campaign in June in support of three different nomination methods, all of which included public nomination options.

But public nomination was ruled out by the NPC in its statement on Sunday, with election candidates for chief executive to be vetted by a special committee before being approved to run.

In past elections, such a committee has been stacked with pro-Beijing candidates, making the selection of a pro-democratic candidate highly unlikely.

Democratic politicians and campaigners have slammed the NPC's election framework as a "fake election."

But Chan Kin-man, co-founder of Occupy Central which has threatened to stage a series of civil disobedience protests in Hong Kong's financial district, said the movement had already been defeated, although protests would continue.

"We have to admit the fact that up to this point it is quite unrealistic to think that our action will change the decision made by Beijing," Chan said.

Backed by Washington

Officials in Washington backed universal suffrage in Hong Kong on Tuesday.

"The United States supports universal suffrage in Hong Kong in accordance with the Basic Law (Hong Kong's mini-constitution) and the aspirations of the Hong Kong people," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.

"We believe that an open society with the highest possible degree of autonomy and governed by rule of law is essential for Hong Kong's stability and prosperity," she said.

Reported by Lin Jing and Ho Shan for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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