A student leader of a mass pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong called on Wednesday for direct talks with the ruling Chinese Communist Party following a live televised debate on Tuesday in which local officials offered minor concessions but rejected protesters' demands for genuine universal suffrage in 2017 elections.
Alex Chow, leader of the influential Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS), told RFA that student leaders of the Occupy Central campaign, which has blocked major highways in the semi-autonomous city since Sept. 28, want to know exactly how far Beijing would let Hong Kong go.
He said the protesters have no plans to leave the occupied sites any time soon, but called for direct dialogue with Chinese officials instead, possibly with a member of China's National People's Congress (NPC) standing committee.
"I'm talking about ... allowing citizens to question them directly," Chow said. "Hong Kong officials say they can't [make concessions], but can they really not? Can this be at least on the table?"
Protesters have repeatedly called on embattled chief executive Leung Chun-ying to resign, and want an open nomination process for elections for his replacement in 2017.
An Aug. 31 ruling by Beijing said Hong Kong's five million-strong electorate will each get a vote in the poll, but that their options will be limited to two or three "patriotic" candidates approved by a nominating committee likely to be stacked with pro-China and pro-establishment members.
Leung's second-in-command Carrie Lam on Tuesday said the 2017 poll must stay within the framework laid down by the NPC standing committee that controls China's rubber-stamp parliament, which has had the final power to interpret Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, since the 1997 handover.
But she said the government, which ignored calls for public nominations in a July report to Beijing, would file a fresh report to Beijing and consider further changes to election procedures after 2017.
She also invited the students to take part in a "platform" for the exchange of views on further constitutional and political change, post-2017.
But the students said Lam's offers were too vague, and pledged to continue the Occupy movement and to boycott classes.
"About whether there will be talks in the future, this is something that isn't decided," Chow told reporters on Wednesday.
"The government has to come up with some way to solve this problem, but what they are offering does not have any practical content," Chow said.
He said it was hard to see the point of a fresh report from the Hong Kong government to Beijing, as it is unlikely to affect the NPC standing committee's Aug. 31 edict.
Joshua Wong, head of the academic activism group Scholarism, said he had no intention of taking part in Lam's "platform."
"We're not even done talking about 2017 yet, so why are they thinking about a platform to discuss the post-2017 political framework?" he said.
"Who else would take part in it? What would it discuss? I think that the government needn't bother inviting us if this platform won't be discussing the 2017 political reforms," Wong said.
The students' comments came as sporadic clashes erupted once more between frustrated taxi-drivers and protesters who have barricaded themselves into a major intersection in the bustling working-class district of Mong Kok.
Police stepped in to prevent physical violence after scuffles and slanging matches broke out.
File for injunction
Meanwhile, a bus company and two transportation industry associations filed a writ with Hong Kong's High Court, in an attempt to win an injunction ordering protesters camped in hundreds of tents on Harcourt Road in Admiralty district to leave.
The Court has already granted injunctions brought by the transportation industry in Mong Kok, but it remains to be seen whether its bailiffs feel able to enforce them.
"This isn't the first time people have come to protest, and if they try to demolish our barricades today, we will take measures to stop them," an Occupy protester surnamed Lee told RFA. "They are using recent court injunctions as an excuse to try to clear the barricades."
He added: "We will only accept [the injunctions] if the government agrees to public nominations."
A fellow Mong Kok protester, also surnamed Lee, said many local people claim they are suffering economic losses from the blocked roads.
"But this is a very short-sighted view," she said. "I'm not afraid, even if the government were to move in suddenly and arrest me."
"Freedom is priceless; it can't be bought with money."
Anger over comments
Dozens of protesters marched to Leung's residence, once the home of British colonial governors, on Wednesday in anger at his comments to overseas media in which he said full democracy would give too much power to those "who earn less than U.S. $1,800 a month."
Pan-democratic lawmaker and trade unionist Lee Cheuk-yan said Hong Kong's electorate will gain very little from Beijing's proposed electoral framework and that the nominating committee will likely represent the interests of the current political elite, as it always has.
"It has always been about the four main sectors," Lee said. "Everyone can see that this isn't about balanced participation."
He said Beijing had already ensured that this bias is written into Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, which has laid down the territory's political framework since the 1997 handover.
"Leung made this very clear; it's biased to exclude poor and low-income people. The dominant ideology of Leung, the ideology in the Basic Law, is about ensuring that the majority don't get to decide elections," he said.
He said the promise of a fresh government report to Beijing would only be meaningful if it was considered by the NPC standing committee, with a view to amending its ruling.
A recent opinion poll found a modest increase in popular support for Occupy Central, compared with the level of support before the campaign began.
Hundreds of thousands of people had taken to the streets in anger in early October at the police use of tear gas and pepper spray on protesters on the first day of the occupation campaign, Sept. 28.
A total of 37.8 percent of 802 respondents polled in early-to-mid October said they supported the pro-democracy movement, compared with just 31.1 percent in early September, a Chinese University of Hong Kong poll found.
"Mathematically speaking, neither side has really represented the majority," pollster Francis Lee told the South China Morning Post newspaper.
"Also it does not show that public opinion has become more polarized and extreme than before," he said.
The poll also found that 42.2 percent of respondents thought that police tactics during clashes with anti-Occupy protesters were inappropriate, while 26.7 percent said police had acted appropriately.
And 53.7 percent of people said it was inappropriate of the police to have used tear gas, while just over 22 percent said it was appropriate.
Opposition to the Beijing-backed electoral reform plan polled at just over 48 percent, while some 36 percent supported it.
Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily on Wednesday reported the dialogue in its overseas edition, saying Hong Kong people were hoping that the talks would end the Occupy Central movement, which has "disturbed" the city.
It quoted analysts as saying that the Occupy movement had been a protest movement from the start, and had never aimed at dialogue, repeating its claim that "foreign forces" are trying to instigate a "color revolution" in Hong Kong.
Joseph Cheng, politics professor at Hong Kong's City University and leader of the Alliance for True Democracy campaign group, expressed skepticism over Lam's proposal for a fresh report to Beijing.
"Everyone is very doubtful that this additional report on popular opinion will do any good at all," Cheng said. "Everyone knows that President Xi Jinping already gets daily reports from Hong Kong."
He said expectations of the "platform" were equally low. "The government's behavior at the last round of public consultations was very disappointing, and they were very unfair," Cheng said.
"The views of the pan-democratic camp were totally neglected."
Reported by Wen Yuqing and Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.