Hong Kong's Richest Fly to Beijing Amid Student Protests

china-hk-cy-leung-protest-sept-2014.jpg Students march to the Government House in Hong Kong to push Chief Executive C.Y. Leung to acknowledge their grievances, Sept. 25, 2014.

Amid intensifying student protests, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with dozens of Hong Kong's richest tycoons this week in a bid to reinforce Beijing's position that candidates in the city's elections must be "patriotic."

Seventy of Hong Kong's richest and most powerful people traveled to the Chinese capital for the audience with Xi on Monday, amid rising political tensions as students staged a week-long boycott of class amid demands that Beijing deliver on promises of political autonomy.

Xi greeted billionaire businessman Li Ka-shing, as well as shipping magnate and former Hong Kong chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, before reminding the group that anyone seeking election in the 2017 race for chief executive must be approved by a Beijing-backed committee.

Under proposals for electoral reform ahead of that poll, all of Hong Kong's five million eligible voters will get a vote, but the vetting process for candidates makes the nomination of anyone from the city's vocal pan-democratic camp highly unlikely.

Pan-democratic politicians and campaigners have dismissed the plan as "fake universal suffrage."

Back in Hong Kong, hundreds of students marched to the colonial-style mansion residence of current chief executive C.Y. Leung Thursday, in a bid to hold a face-to-face dialogue over the territory's political future.

Thousands of students have joined a five-day strike in support of full universal suffrage since Monday, while the "Occupy Central" civil disobedience campaign says it is planning a major event on the Oct. 1 National Day holiday in the central business district.

Leung has ignored a 48-hour ultimatum issued on Tuesday to meet with the students or face an escalation in protest, although he has said he respects their demands and their perseverance in pursuing them.

Deadline passed

Student leader Yvonne Leung said the students wanted a meeting with the chief executive in Tamar Park, next to the central government office buildings, but that the deadline had now passed.

"It is very clear that we have waited 48 hours, but that C.Y. Leung hasn't appeared in Tamar Park," Leung said.

"He doesn't want to respond to the demands of students and citizens, so we have just announced further action this evening," she said.

Students protesting in Tamar Park seemed to agree.

"If we don't step up our protests now, then the government will just carry on ignoring us indefinitely," one striking student told RFA.

Fanny Law, a member of C.Y. Leung's cabinet, the Executive Council, said she was in favor of dialogue, but hit out at the students' manner of expressing themselves.

"I am in favor of dialogue and communication, but it should be carried out in a calm manner and with a certain amount of sincerity," Law said.

"An invitation to dialogue shouldn't be issued in the manner of a challenge," she said.

Fellow ExCo member and delegate to Beijing's National People's Congress (NPC) Bernard Chan said no one wanted to see any violence or law-breaking during the protests.

"That definitely won't get us any further forward, and it won't help matters," Chan said.

Occupy Central

Hong Kong Baptist University student union official Wong Hon-leung said the government appeared to be ignoring its citizens in the wake of the Aug. 31 announcement by the NPC standing committee that ruled out public nominations.

Beijing's ruling came after an unofficial Occupy Central referendum drew some 800,000 votes in favor of public nomination, which were later dismissed by officials as having "no basis in law."

"We had 13,000 students on strike [on Monday], and half a million people on the streets [on July 1], as well as 800,000 voting [in the referendum]," Wong said.

"We have expressed our wishes very clearly, but C.Y. Leung's report to the NPC didn't even mention our voices," he said. "He should take responsibility for the outcome, because he didn't accurately reflect the views of Hong Kong people."

An estimated 13,000 striking students and supporters turned out for a pro-democracy rally at the Chinese University of Hong Kong on Monday, the first day of the strike.

Meanwhile, some high-school students have said they will join the class boycott on Friday.

Occupy Central said it will hold a "democracy feast," setting up dining tables, bringing food and having after-dinner speeches in the business district as the ruling Chinese Communist Party celebrates the anniversary of the 1949 founding of the People's Republic of China by late supreme leader Mao Zedong.

Organizers say they expect around 10,000 people to attend.

Occupy Central has vowed to keep up an ongoing campaign of protest and civil disobedience to protect Hong Kong's judicial independence, freedom of association and expression, in spite of Beijing's ruling out of public nomination of candidates.

Terms of autonomy

Under the terms of a 1984 treaty signed by the Communist Party and the British government, Hong Kong was promised a "high degree of autonomy" following its 1997 handover to Chinese rule.

But many say Beijing, which has warned Hong Kong it can never enjoy full autonomy, is putting heavy-handed pressure on the territory's once-free-wheeling media, and wielding increasing influence in every area of citizens' lives.

Pro-democracy campaigners say they are now fighting to preserve the city's traditional values, amid a growing number of attacks on, and sackings of, outspoken media figures and prominent journalists.

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

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