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Talks in Hong Kong back on horizon after another protest icon falls

A pro-democracy protester is arrested by riot police after they moved into the area occupied by the protesters in Mong Kok district of Hong Kong, early on Friday. Riot police took down barricades, tents and canopies that have blocked key streets for more than two weeks.   | Photo Credit: Kin Cheung

The standoff between the Hong Kong authorities and student-led protesters could ease next week as the possibility of talks has resurfaced amid a calibrated crackdown by the police on one more stronghold of the agitation on Friday.

Rows of police officers descended on the Mong Kok area of Hong Kong early on Friday, removing tents, barricades and umbrellas — the symbol of the protests — after surrounding around 30 protesters, many of whom were sleeping. The police action cleared the way for limited traffic to flow. Rail transit to the area also resumed.

The authorities continue to maintain that they are not ending the assembly of protesters, but only removing obstacles to restore basic normality in the area. “We did not clear the area, because protesters still have ample space to express their views, and we set up a demonstration area on the pedestrian zone by Wai Fung Plaza on Argyle Street,” said Police Senior Superintendent Catherine Kwan Chui-ching at an early morning press conference.

“The point of the operation was to remove the illegal obstacles blocking the road, and at the request of the protesters, we set up a spot for them,” she observed.

Earlier in the week, the authorities had removed the sting from the agitation by removing barricades and restarting traffic at two other protest icons — Admiralty, the seat of government offices — and Causeway Bay, a prime shopping district.

The police assertion in Mong Kok followed a Thursday news conference where Hong Kong Chief Executive, Leung Chun-ying announced that he and the students could find a via media, within the framework of the “Basic Law”. His offer ruled out acceptance of the protesters’ demand for unqualified democracy, for the Basic Law would allow 2017 elections for the Chief Exectuive’s post in Hong Kong to be based on universal suffrage among candidates that have been vetted by a nominating committee. The protesters reject the screening of candidates prior to the elections as an infringement to democracy. Mr. Leung stressed that Hong Kong cannot make changes that are disallowed under the Basic Law.

Hong Kong’s Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen made it plain that protester demands that China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee withdraw its framework for the 2017 election are “neither realistic nor appropriate”. Mr. Tam urged students not to adopt a “zero sum attitude” to reforms, and, instead, take a wider view of constitutional development.

In mainland China, state-run media continued to contextualise the protests as part of growing geopolitical competition between the United States and China. An editorial in the Global Times, affiliated to the Chinese communist party points out, “The blunder of the Occupy Central forces lies in attempting to politically push Hong Kong back to the Western world through forcing it to choose a side. They've put Hong Kong on the chessboard of China-US competition in a high profile position. They are making a childish political gamble.”

The daily observed that it would be impossible to separate Hong from the China-U.S. “strategic completion,” but the territory would benefit if it chose to become a bridge between the mainland and the U.S. “Hong Kong is confronted with varied options. It could choose to be an important communicator between the mainland and the West. If it succeeds, the role of Hong Kong will be irreplaceable, even after the mainland kicks off an all-round opening-up to the outside world.”

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Printable version | Dec 5, 2020 3:32:31 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/world/talks-in-hong-kong-back-on-horizon-after-another-protest-icon-falls/article6511367.ece

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