Decision Time Looms for Remaining Hong Kong Protesters

Hong Kong
A pro-democracy protester stands in front of a line of riot police at Mongkok shopping district in Hong Kong early October 17, 2014. Bobby Yip/REUTErs

It's decision time for the student protesters still camped out in the streets of Hong Kong. Their occupation of several major thoroughfares in the city since 28th September has so far failed to yield concessions from the government who have refused to budge voting reforms. If anything, rhetoric and force used by the government has hardened, leading some protesters to say they'll relinquish their positions in the next seven days.

The Hong Kong Federation of Students announced on Thursday that they would be deciding whether to continue to occupy certain areas of the city within the week.

The leader of the Federation, Yvonne Leung, said in an interview: "We've tried both the soft and hard way, we've negotiated with them, and we've tried to blockade the government headquarters. But the government has been unwavering, so we have to make a decision."

Joshua Wong, who heads up another group called Scholarism, began a hunger strike this week, seemingly aware that other tactics have failed to have an effect on the government's stance. "The focus of Scholarism's work is the hunger strike," he said at a news conference on Tuesday. "We hope that people will focus on the government's unwillingness to hold dialogue and on the students' hunger strike, not on retreating."

The Hong Kong government have taken a hardline approach to the protests which have been occurring in the city for three months now - spurred by China's announcement they will vet prospective leaders for Hong Kong before the 2017 election.

The current Hong Kong chief executive is Leung Chun-ying, a figure who's been vilified by the protesters for his close ties with Beijing and authoritarian stance. Leung was elected in July 2012 having been approved by Chinese leaders and is currently halfway through his five-year term.

He has been dogged by rumours throughout his rule that he is a member of a secret communist group, and critics often refer to him as '689', a reference to the number of votes he received from the small group of electors before he came to power.

At the beginning of the week, Leung warned:"I advise everyone who's still occupying or thinking to return to protest sites . . . not to mistake the tolerance of our police force in the past as an inability to deal with the protests. Don't mistake police's restraint as weakness."

He recently addressed the hunger strike, taken on by three student leaders, saying: "I've said before that any resistance is futile." Leung also warned of the fallout for the protesters: "They should think about the consequences of joining the occupation, which is an illegal movement," he said in a statement issued by the city government. "Any form of resistance cannot achieve universal suffrage for Hong Kong," it continued.

In October he told national press that if the government agreed to the demands of the pro-democracy protesters then the poorest section of the city could dominate the elections:

"If it's entirely a numbers game and numeric representation, then obviously you'd be talking to the half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than US$1,800 a month [HK$13,964.2]."

He went on to say "We'd like to listen to the students as to what they have on their minds, and what their proposals are. We are all ears," but since this declaration, no compromise has been reached.

Sir Richard Ottaway MP, the chairman of the British parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee whose trip to Hong Kong was "postponed" after they were told they would be denied entry to the city told Newsweek: "China are certainly toughening up on a number of aspects of public life, which doesn't surprise me. The protesters may be asking for more than what the basic law provides, but it's a good grievance in my opinion."

He went on to note the tone of the parliamentary debate which was called on Tuesday after the Committee's trip was cancelled. "The mood of the house was one of anger at the situation, in particular that the Chinese said the joint-declaration had no validity - the House [of Commons] completely rejected that."

Sir Richard also said that Leung Chun-ying had not responded to requests for a meeting.