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Hong Kong students reject government request for closed-door meeting

Thousands of protesters surround the police headquarter in Hong Kong on June 21, 2019. (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images/TNS)
July 07, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Hong Kong students on Thursday rejected a request from officials for a private meeting to discuss recent mass protests against extradition to China, calling on the administration of chief executive Carrie Lam to first accede to the protesters’ demands.

The online news outlet Hong Kong Free Press quoted a spokesperson for Lam as saying late on Thursday that “the Chief Executive has recently started inviting young people of different backgrounds for a meeting, including university students and young people who have participated in recent protests.”

The student union of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, whose senior management was contacted by the government, said it isrefusing to meet with officials, who have suggested a meeting behind closed doors, it said on a Facebook post.

“Since 1.3 million people took to the streets to call for the withdrawal of the amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance on June 9, people have continued to come out in protest to demand a withdrawal,” the statement said.

“On June 16 two million people came out onto the streets … then the people occupied the Legislative Council and issued a declaration,” it said.

It said the people of Hong Kong want the complete withdrawal of the amendments, a withdrawal of the government description of June 12 protests as “riots,” an amnesty for all arrested protesters and an independent inquiry to probe police violence on that date.

“However, Lam’s administration has refused to deliver,” it said, adding that simply seeking dialogue with students isn’t enough.

“This union will not and cannot represent all protesters,” the statement said, adding that opposition to the extradition plans has been voiced by the business sector, healthcare workers, the legal profession, education profession and many other stakeholders.

“Any dialogue with the Lam administration must include representatives from all walks of life,” it said. “The government should not think that it can threaten those in higher education, as it did during the [2014] Umbrella movement.”

Public assembly demand

The statement called for a huge citizens’ assembly in a large public venue, before the eyes of the world.

Chinese University of Hong Kong Students Union president So Tsun-fung said senior officials had also contacted senior management at his school in a bid to set up a meeting with students.

“It is understandable that they sent an invitation through the senior management of the school, because the government will not directly contact the student union,” So said.

“However, we think that the government can do better in terms of transparency, and that there is no need for meetings behind closed doors,” he said. “A more open way of doing it would be better.”

Meanwhile, officials said the Legislative Council (LegCo) will remain closed for business until the next session begins in October, after protesters broke into the building and daubed it with anti-extradition graffiti late on Monday.

The protests have sparked a diplomatic row between Beijing and London, with British politicians expressing concern about the erosion of Hong Kong’s promised freedoms in recent years, citing a 1984 bilateral treaty governing the handover.

Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt warned on Tuesday of consequences if China did not abide by the Sino-British Joint Declaration.

Liu Xiaoming, China’s ambassador to the U.K., responded by saying that Britain had “chosen the wrong side.”

“These inappropriate comments are not just interference in Hong Kong’s internal affairs, and support for violence,” Liu said. “They are an attempt to hinder the Hong Kong … government’s attempts to bring criminals to justice.”

“They still think that Hong Kong is under British rule, but … it doesn’t belong to Britain any more, so I call on the U.K. to let Hong Kong go,” he said.

‘Western forces’

Meanwhile, the English-language state newspaper China Daily accused “Western forces” of instigating unrest in Hong Kong.

“The violent behavior that these Western agitators are emboldening tramples on the rule of law in Hong Kong and undermines its social order,” the paper said in an editorial.

Lam’s administration has shut down LegCo for two weeks following the break-in, which left toughened glass doors and steel shutters in pieces and large amounts of anti-extradition and anti-China graffiti daubed on the building, including the main chamber.

Monday’s storming of LegCo came after an estimated 500,000 people marched peacefully against planned amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, and amid renewed calls for fully democratic elections in the city.

China’s rejection of full democracy for Hong Kong in 2014 sparked the 79-day Occupy Central protests, also known as the Umbrella movement.

The amendments are widely seen as a threat to Hong Kong’s way of life, which was supposed to have been protected by the “one country, two systems” framework under which the former British colony was handed back to China in 1997.

If they become law, the city could lose its status as a separate legal jurisdiction and trading entity, while journalists, visitors, rights activists, dissidents, democratic politicians, and members of the business community could be targeted for words and actions deemed illegal by Chinese authorities, and extradited to face trial in Chinese courts.

Reported by Tam Siu-yin, Tseng Yat-yiu and Wong Lok-to for RFA’s Cantonese Service, and by Lu Xi for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.