HONG KONG – Hong Kong’s student protesters told Chinese President Xi Jinping that they don’t want a revolution and their civil disobedience was triggered by the city’s government misrepresenting local views on electoral reform.
Hong Kong’s government “should be held responsible,” the Hong Kong Federation of Students and activist group Scholarism said late Saturday in an open letter on the federation’s Facebook page. The students said they don’t want a “color revolution,” a term Chinese state media use for uprisings such as the so-called Arab Spring.
Activists pressing for freer elections and Hong Kong’s government are locked in the city’s worst political crisis since China regained the former British colony in 1997. The city’s No. 2 official, Carrie Lam, said Saturday that the government can’t talk with the students unless they recognize the legal framework China laid down for a 2017 vote in the city.
China’s official People’s Daily newspaper has backed Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and warned Oct. 1 that the consequences of the street occupations could be “unimaginable” if they dragged on. In 1989, the Chinese government cracked down to end student protests centered on Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
The students’ letter was posted as protesters continued street occupations that have paralyzed parts of the city. Hundreds of pitched tents signal the activists’ grip on their stronghold in the Admiralty district, the home to the government’s headquarters and the Legislative Council.
“The occupy movement in Hong Kong is not a color revolution, it is Hong Kong people demanding democracy,” the student organizations said. “We sincerely respect ‘one country, two systems,’ ” they said, referring to Hong Kong being part of China while having different rules.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said Oct. 10 in Germany that the central government’s policy toward Hong Kong hasn’t changed and will not change. Lam said that any discussions with students must be based on the legal framework laid out by the National People’s Congress. Her comments in the Chinese city of Guangzhou were broadcast on Cable TV.
The protest site in Admiralty on Saturday had everything from origami lessons to movies and documentaries screened outdoors on walls. Families ate meals on makeshift tables. Dozens of students worked into the night in a “self-study corner.” One group of speakers were democracy activists from Macau, who said they had a tougher task than their counterparts in Hong Kong.
Student leader Joshua Wong, 17, the founder of a group called Scholarism, had urged a show of strength to maintain pressure on the government. Government official Lam suspended talks scheduled for Friday after student leaders, prodemocracy politicians and the activist group Occupy Central with Love and Peace joined forces to call for a “wave of new civil disobedience.”
The number of protesters on the streets, which had dropped to hundreds from demonstrators’ estimates of as many as 200,000 at a peak, picked up again Friday as the government and students blamed each other for the aborted talks.
“What the students have done is to bring more people to support them, which will bring them more chances of success at the table,” Martin Lee, 76, founder of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party and a protest supporter, said by phone Saturday.
Still, while sites in Admiralty and Mong Kok may together have attracted as many as thousands of people yesterday, crowds are thinner that at earlier stages of the demonstrations.
“I’m here because Joshua said we should stay here for a long time,” said Stormy Lo, 22, after he and his girlfriend pitched a tent near government offices. “I will be here for this weekend at least,” said Lo, adding that he was among those previously pepper-sprayed during clashes with police.
On the government side, Lam remains in Guangzhou today for a development and trade forum, according to a government statement. Leung will be there today and Monday.
In Admiralty, Saxon Lam, 23, a finance and economics student, said that he’d already been camping out since Sept. 23. “I will be here for as long as the movement requires me to,” he said. Some other protesters were feeling the strain. Agnes Chow Ting, 17, stepped down as a spokeswoman for Scholarism after 2½ years, citing exhaustion, saying that she’s “unable to shoulder such a great burden,” in a post Saturday on Scholarism’s Facebook page.
In another sign of tensions in the city, the newspaper Apple Daily, which is owned by prodemocracy activist Jimmy Lai, said on its website late Saturday that a truck was parked outside its headquarters in Tseung Kwan O, blocking access and threatening to prevent the newspaper being distributed.