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Hong Kong students reject closed-door talks with city leader after mass protests

Student unions from two Hong Kong universities said Friday that they have turned down invitations from city leader Carrie Lam for talks about the recent unrest over her proposal to allow the extradition of suspects to mainland China.

'We believe it is a PR stunt,' student representative says of Carrie Lam's offer

Ng Yat Ming, the vice president of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Students' Union, rejected an offer from city leader Carrie Lam to meet in the wake of mass protests. (Reuters)

Student unions from two Hong Kong universities said Friday that they have turned down invitations from city leader Carrie Lam for talks about the recent unrest over her proposal to allow the extradition of suspects to mainland China.

The invitations followed a pledge by Lam to do a better job of listening to the voices of young people.

Student leaders said at a news conference that they do not think Lam is being sincere. Her office invited them to closed-door meetings, but the students said any meeting should be public and include a wider representation than just them.

"A closed-door meeting does not have any witnesses to prove what was discussed, the public does not know what the dialogue was about," said Jordan Pang from the University of Hong Kong Students' Union. "The public has the right to know."

Ng Yat Ming, the vice president of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Students' Union, said they would be condemned as traitors if they negotiated with Lam on behalf of the public.

"We believe it is a PR stunt," he said.

Young people have taken the lead in protesting against the extradition legislation, which many see as a threat to the rights guaranteed to Hong Kong under the "one country, two systems" framework that governs the Chinese territory.

Protesters broke the windows of the Legislative Council building on the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China on Monday. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Lam, who was appointed as Hong Kong's leader by a committee dominated by pro-Beijing elites, suspended the legislation indefinitely after a huge march against it on June 9 and then a June 12 demonstration that blocked access to the legislature and nearby streets.

The protesters remain unsatisfied and have escalated their tactics. They are demanding formal withdrawal of the extradition bill, Lam's resignation, the release of dozens arrested after the protests and an independent investigation into a police crackdown on the June 12 protest that included tear gas and rubber bullets.

On Monday, one group smashed through thick windows to break into the legislature building on a national holiday that marked the return of Hong Kong from Britain to China in 1997. They spray-painted slogans on the walls and damaged the fire prevention and electronic voting systems.

The legislature has decided to suspend meeting until October for repairs to its heavily damaged complex.

Trust 'has vanished'

Wang Dan, one of the leaders of the 1989 pro-democracy protests in China, has been watching developments in Hong Kong with keen interest. 

"Observing the protest, I realize the trust between Hong Kongers and Beijing has vanished. Beijing's hard-line stance forces Hong Kongers to intensify their protest because they have no choice," he wrote from Washington in an email to CBC News Wednesday.  

Wang spent almost a decade in Chinese prisons after the Communist Party crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests. 

Last year he founded a think-tank in Washington called Dialogue China, dedicated to education about democratic reform and human rights in his native land. Hong Kong student leader Joshua Wong is a board member.

Wang said he doubts the Chinese Communist Party will resort to violence in Hong Kong.

"I don't believe Beijing would dare to use the army and cause another Tiananmen incident," he said. 

The Tiananmen massacre traumatized his own generation of Chinese pro-democracy activists, but he believes the protesters in Hong Kong are unlikely to back down.

"They realize it is necessary to express their rage in a more intense way. This is their choice," Wang said. 

He said that in his view, the lesson from Hong Kong's protest is that "one country, two systems" has been a "total failure."

"China has also already lost Hong Kongers' support," he wrote. "The future generation of Hong Kongers will be Beijing's enemy. The problem in Hong Kong indicates that China lacks the capacity to solve its major crisis."

Wang said in the long term, he thinks a "true general election" would be the only solution for Hong Kong.

"However, apparently, Beijing would not do that. So the problem of Hong Kong is insoluble, and the conflict will continue."

With files from CBC's Jennifer Clibbon and Reuters

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