On October 16, Hong Kong authorities announced that they are willing to have a discussion with the protesters. C. Y. Leung, the city’s Chief Executive and the foremost target of protesters’ anger, told journalists that the government would begin talks as soon as they could, “hopefully within the following week.”
Doubts concerning the government’s true willingness to have a meaningful dialogue surfaced even before the Chief Executive had finished his talk, for he immediately excluded the possibility of changing the electoral law approved by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee. In his own words, “politics is the art of the possible and we have to draw a line between possibilities and impossibilities.” This morning, the police reportedly cleared the protest site at Mongkok, a sign that the government might simply be trying to buy time and suppress the movement.
On the streets of Admiralty, it was hard to find anyone who believed that the administration could be trusted. “I do not think it will be useful; they will not accept our ideas,” commented two girls sitting on a concrete wall on the main street. “They won’t change their minds.”
“We have been asking for what Hong Kong wants for 10 years and there has been no change”, said a protester who told us his name was Danny. “They’ll have some ridiculous condition,” he argued, “and the talks will flounder.”
The fact that last week’s talks, which had been offered and scheduled by the government, were called off the day before they were supposed to be held – on Oct. 10 – did not help boost confidence. “I think they just want the people to think the government is ready to compromise, but they do not really want to change anything,” complained one man. “They always listen to Beijing; they cannot object to anything the central government says. They just want to improve their careers and do not really care about making people in Hong Kong better off.”
Together with a girl who was sitting close by, they presented a grim picture of the future: “Many things in Hong Kong are getting worse: the media, the economy, property prices. It is an unsatisfactory situation for the people. We are seeing Hong Kong becoming more and more like the mainland, and we do not want that.”
To be fair to the government, there is truth in what Mr. Leung said in his speech. At the end of the day, it is Beijing that calls the shots. Since Beijing is completely averse to anything even remotely resembling separatism – like a Hong Kong administration out of its control – the chances of modifying current laws are slim.
Protesters know this well. In interviews with the Asian Correspondent, many mentioned that, willing or not, authorities have their hands tied when it comes to meaningfully changing the electoral process. “I think even if they are being honest about their desire to talk, they do not have the power to do so,” said a protester who said his name was Douglas. This is both the saddest and brightest characteristic of the protests: many are taking to the streets knowing that they will not get what they want- but they still go out and try to make their message heard.