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Li Xueying
Thursday, Sep 4, 2014

Asia

Beijing official heckled amid HK election anger

The Straits Times | Li Xueying | Thursday, Sep 4, 2014

Pro-democracy lawmaker Leung Kwok Hung being dragged away by security guards during a protest against Mr Li Fei.

Hong Kong's fractious relationship with its political masters in Beijing was thrown into relief, as a senior Chinese official arrived yesterday to explain the central government's stance on constitutional reform - but was assailed by hecklers and protesters instead.

The country's deputy secretary-general of the top legislature body, Mr Li Fei, had to halt a speech for five minutes, when pan-Democrat legislators shouted slogans and held up a banner with the words: "The Chinese Communist Party broke its promises".

Outside the venue, police used pepper spray on protesters who had gathered.

Heightened security was also seen in the financial district of Central where activists are planning a sit-in, while talk of People's Liberation Army forces moving in ratcheted up a notch.

Yesterday, Mr Li stressed in his briefing to lawmakers and business elites that the country's leadership "will not be swayed" in its decision.

On Sunday, the National People's Congress' Standing Committee (NPCSC) set out tough rules on how Hong Kongers can elect their leader in 2017 - which essentially will bar any candidates not endorsed by Beijing from running.

Speaking in Hong Kong, Mr Li said it had taken into consideration the threat of civil disobedience, such as the Occupy Central campaign which says it will mobilise up to 10,000 people to shut down the business hub.

"Everyone knows that what it is doing is illegal, and history and experience tell us that if we give in to some radical and illegal behaviour, it will lead to more and larger-scale illegal activities.

"The NPCSC has fully considered this in making this decision."

He further warned that if Hong Kong legislators do not pass reform proposals based on its principles, " the society will be more unstable".

Asked why Beijing does not trust Hong Kongers themselves to elect a leader who is suitable for the city, he retorted: "The handover took place not 20 years ago. We made more progress in 17 years than the British did under its 150 years of colonial rule. We are now granting Hong Kong universal suffrage. Does this not show that we trust Hong Kongers?"

But the speech gained little traction among the pro-democracy camp.

Occupy Central organiser Chan Kin Man told The Straits Times that the sit-in will "take place very soon, in a matter of weeks".

The date cannot be specified as the organisers could be arrested beforehand.

A series of weekend protests is expected to take place, with one of them prolonging into a sit-in.

"I don't see any room for negotiation. We have to rely on a vibrant civil society instead - people taking to the streets and people power replacing the idea of reforming the system."

He acknowledged this may not achieve anything for Hong Kong's reform efforts now.

"We don't think Beijing will back down. But we have to show our dignity. If we back down, we will lose not just hopes of democratic reform, but also our 'one country, two systems' framework. We failed this time but we need to guard against future attacks on it."

In preparation for such actions, companies are girding themselves for possible disruption of business.

A spokesman for Hang Lung Properties, a property company, said it has an "emergency response mechanism", including moving its staff in Central to other sites once the campaign begins.

Asia's richest man, tycoon Li Ka Shing, meanwhile called for the city to "move forward when it comes to political developments", according to his spokesman.

But this looks tough, given that mistrust between both sides is at a high.

Veteran political analyst Johnny Lau said: "I think the Chinese government has no more patience to listen to Hong Kong, and has taken actions that sparked the discontent of the Hong Kong people. What is happening now is harmful for both sides, to both the mainland and Hong Kong."

xueying@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Sep 2, 2014.
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