Hong Kong Protests Waver as Student Leader Starts Hunger Strike

Hong Kong
A police officer uses a baton on a pro-democracy protesters near the office of the Chief Executive in Hong Kong December 1, 2014. Tyrone Siu/REUTERS

The Hong Kong pro-democracy movement appears to be in danger of burning out after student leader Joshua Wong announced he has begun a hunger strike and the three co-founders of Occupy Central, the group that initially led the protests, said they will hand themselves into the police on Wednesday, urging the student protesters to retreat amid fears of a violent crackdown by the authorities.

Wong started his hunger strike on Monday, along with two female protesters, having been arrested by police during the violent clashes on Sunday. The leader of the Scholarism student group hopes that the strike will re-open talks with the government, telling journalists: "We are hoping that after the hunger strike we have a chance to speak with government officials openly - then there will be a chance to solve this Hong Kong problem." He later told CNN: "I know it is really harmful to my body, however it is the only way to give pressure to the government to get a meeting with us."

Newsweek spoke to a spokesman for the Hong Kong Democracy Now group about Wong's strike. "No one would expect any changes from the Hong Kong and the Beijing governments," they said, "despite the fact that protesters have carried out peaceful occupation for more than two months, and have also tried to escalate action over the days."

"While protesters are running out of moves, the hunger strike is a moral call to the general public and a way to regain the public's concern and sympathy," they told Newsweek.

However, the current chief executive of Hong Kong, Leung Chun-ying, who is backed by Beijing, has called the hunger strike "futile". A government statement in reference to the students' actions said: "Any form of resistance cannot achieve universal suffrage for Hong Kong."

Benny Tai, Chan Kin-man and Chu Yiu-ming, who began Occupy Central in March 2013, wrote an open letter to the public that read: "We will bear the legal consequences and hope the students will retreat. We three have abided by the law throughout our lives, but in order to challenge this unjust system, we are willing to face all consequences. To surrender and bear the legal consequences is to respect the rule of law."

Both the Occupy movement, led by professors and older activists, and the students have been protesting against the lack of voting reforms offered by China's National People's Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) meaning that Beijing would have the ability to screen candidates for the 2017 Hong Kong chief executive election. There have been street occupations in the city for over three months.

However, confrontations between the protesters and police have recently become increasingly violent, culminating in Sunday night's disruptions when students attempted to block access to government buildings and were met with considerable force. There are reports of police using batons and pepper-spray. Over 40 people were taken to hospital.

The 'Hong Kong Democracy Now' Facebook page carries a recent post titled "Action failed, Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) and Scholarism bowed to apologize".

Describing a speech given by Alex Chow the general-secretary of the HKFS, it reads: "He saluted all those who participated in the surrounding the Central Government Office movement yesterday. He said that this movement would not have been possible without their support. He also apologized to the general public on this same issue. At this moment, many supporters standing below the platform shouted 'Keep it up'."

A foreign affairs committee from the UK were banned from visiting the country earlier this week leading to the chair of the group Sir Richard Ottaway calling an emergency debate in the House of Commons today.