In a roughly 20 minute press conference, Hong Kong’s chief executive made his first public response to the protests gripping the city. Chun-ying (CY) Leung’s press conference was held just before a midnight ultimatum issued by protestors came into effect.
In the press conference, Leung announced that the government would meet one of the protestors’ demands. The Hong Kong Federation of Students wrote an open letter asking for a meeting with the chief secretary for administration in order to discuss the constitutional development of Hong Kong. Leung said that Chief Secretary Carrie Lam will in fact meet with students. Lam said that she hoped for a swift resolution to the impasse. When asked if the meeting would be public, as the protestors had requested, Lam demurred, saying that the details still needed to be worked out. Lam also indicated that she had already held meetings with both pro-democratic and pro-Beijing forces earlier on Thursday.
Leung praised the Hong Kong police and the SAR government for their restraint. He said that the protests would continue to be tolerated as long as protestors do no attempt to occupy important government buildings, such as the police headquarters and the chief executive’s office. Leung said that he did not want a confrontation between police and protestors, and urged protestors not to advance on the police cordons. When asked about reports that the Hong Kong police are armed with rubber bullets, Leung emphasized that the police will continue to exercise restraint. Still, he also urged to protestors to end their occupation of the city center.
Though Leung offered the protestors a dialogue with Carrie Lam, there still seems to be little to no room for compromise. Leung insisted repeatedly that the dialogue and the ultimate solution must follow Hong Kong’s Basic Law and work within the framework of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) decision on Hong Kong’s elections. Following these two guidelines is the only way to have universal suffrage in 2017, Leung told reporters. The protestors have already indicated they are not willing to accept the NPSC decision, which would see all candidates for chief executive be nominated by a Beijing-friendly committee.
Leung also made clear that he will not resign, despite vocal calls for him to do so from the protestors. Leung said that he planned to stay in office and continue to work on Hong Kong’s electoral reform. Analysts have suggested that Beijing might pressure Leung to step down as a way of appeasing the protestors; that seems to be off the table for now.
The official Occupy Central with Love and Peace Twitter account, which live-tweeted the press conference, offered a short analysis immediately afterward: “They’re trying to wrong-foot demonstrators, giving us very little to see if that buys us off, putting ball back in our court.” In a statement posted on its Facebook page, OCLP said that it will “fully support” the talks with Lam. However, the group also reiterated its call for Leung to step down and for the NPCSC to “withdraw its decision on Hong Kong’s political reform.”