'Golden opportunity' to think about concessions: Pro-Beijing legislator tells Hong Kong leader after peaceful weekend rallies
HONG KONG: Pro-establishment legislator Michael Tien on Tuesday (Aug 20) urged Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to consider some of the protesters’ demands, after peaceful rallies over the weekend gave hope of a window for dialogue and reconciliation.
In an interview with CNA, Mr Tien, leader of pro-Beijing party Roundtable, noted that after weeks of violent clashes, last weekend's tear gas-free demonstrations were “exceptional”.
“We’ve created a golden opportunity,” he said.
This opportunity, he elaborated, would place Ms Lam in a position where she would be able to meet some of the protesters’ demands without worrying about being accused of yielding to violence.
“No government, no political leader, want to be accused of yielding to violence when they make concessions.”
The next major rally is scheduled to be held on Aug 31, giving the Hong Kong government a 10-day window to search for solutions, said Mr Tien.
“If she (Ms Lam) can reduce the turnout (at the rally) on Aug 31, or better still, continue to maintain a record of no bloodshed, then I think the central government will feel comfortable not to intervene.”
In recent weeks, increasingly stern warnings from China as well as images of armoured vehicles in the border city of Shenzhen have sparked fears that Beijing might intervene militarily to put a stop to the protests in Hong Kong.
ARE THE PROTESTERS READY TO STEP BACK?
When asked if he thought the protesters were prepared to step back for now, Mr Tien replied: “I think so. Even the hostile group was stepping back this past weekend to give the government a chance to respond to a peaceful protest”.
“They know the government well – that it cannot and will not do anything as long as the violence continues,” he observed.
“So now they are saying: ‘There is no more violence. This must be the time that you (the government) have to do something’.”
Mr Tien has emerged as one of the more moderate and proactive voices in the pro-Beijing camp. Before the protests started, he said he would not back the extradition Bill as it was too controversial.
Earlier this month, the legislator who is also one of Hong Kong’s deputies to the National People’s Congress, urged Beijing to consider giving in to some of the protesters’ demands, including the convening of a judge-led independent inquiry.
However, the central government stated that the disturbances must end before any investigation is held.
EARLY SEPTEMBER AS DEADLINE FOR CALM
During the interview, Mr Tien, citing his political sources, said that Beijing has set its own timeline for resolving the situation.
Come Oct 1 - when Beijing celebrates the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China - the central government would want the media focus to be on national achievements.
“The Beijing leadership is extremely concerned that on National Day, (what if) television cameras all around the world are not focusing on the parade but rather on tear gas or massive turnout of a rally in Hong Kong. That is something no leadership will want to see,” he said.
READ: 'Too scared to buy ice cream for my son': Hong Kong protests leave some residents looking for an exit
If the central government does not have confidence by early September that the Carrie Lam administration can restore calm, it would likely allow the military to step in, predicted Mr Tien.
“That is the last resort. No one wants to see that,” he said.
Weeks of rallies and protests in Hong Kong have seen millions of people take to the streets in the biggest challenge to China's rule of the semi-autonomous city since its 1997 handover from Britain.
The movement was initially sparked by opposition to the extradition Bill, which would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, but later evolved into a much broader campaign for democratic freedom.
The government has announced it will “suspend” the Bill.
However, the protesters have issued five demands.
Aside from Ms Lam’s resignation, they want a complete withdrawal of the Bill and a halt to descriptions of the protests as "rioting".
The protesters have also asked for a waiver of charges against those arrested, and an independent judge-led inquiry on the actions of the police.
Over the weekend, the city saw massive rallies but the mostly peaceful nature of the gatherings gave hope of a pathway towards reconciliation.
On Tuesday, Ms Lam expressed hope that the peaceful weekend was the start of an effort to restore peace. She also announced that the government would talk to peaceful protesters and an existing study under the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) would be expanded in scope.
JUDGE-LED INQUIRY KEY TO RESOLUTION
Commenting on the Tuesday announcement, Mr Tien was sceptical about whether the protesters would accept the IPCC study.
“They’ve never mentioned that they were concerned about the scope of the IPCC. They just do not accept its credibility and the information (given by) the IPCC,” he said.
Mr Tien noted that the powers given to an independent inquiry and the IPCC study are very different.
A judge-led inquiry would have statutory powers. It can summon witnesses and if the witnesses do not turn up, it is considered contempt of court, he pointed out.
“Importantly, I think that the Hong Kong public by and large, trust people who are not politically affiliated … So having a judge to lead is of paramount importance in terms of credibility to the public.”
Looking ahead as what is the most likely political solution, he said that some of the five demands will need to be addressed.
“Especially the committee of inquiry, that has become increasingly important to the protesters,” he concluded.