HONG KONG: Hong Kong's chief executive Carrie Lam has asked to meet with the city's university students, her office said on Thursday (Jul 4) evening, as the embattled leader tries to fend off pressure from a month-long political crisis.
Protesters stormed the local parliament on Monday, the 22nd anniversary of the city's return to Chinese rule. This followed mass demonstrations last month against Lam's extradition Bill, which critics fear could see Hong Kong citizens being sent for trial in the mainland.
Lam said she has paused efforts to push for the Bill, but protesters say that stops short of a full withdrawal.
In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for Lam said "the Chief Executive has recently started inviting young people of different backgrounds for a meeting, including university students and young people who have participated in recent protests".
The student union at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), one of the eight major higher education institutions, has turned down the offer to meet, saying that the city's leader had requested a closed-door meeting.
"The dialogue must be open to all Hong Kong citizens to participate, and allow everybody the right to speak," the union said in a statement published on Facebook.
Lam's spokesperson said the chief executive hopes the HKUST student union will reconsider taking part in the meeting, which would be held in a "small-scale and closed-door manner" to facilitate an "in-depth and frank exchange of views".
A leader of the Hong Kong University Students' Union, Jordan Pang, said although he had not received an invitation to meet Lam, he would only agree to if the government promised not to investigate protesters involved in demonstrations between Jun 9 and Jul 1.
"We don't understand why she didn't openly respond to the people's demands but prefer to do it through a closed-door meeting," Pang said.
"We want to ask if the government sincerely wants to communicate with young people or if it's just another political PR show."
Students there repeated the opposition's request in recent weeks to investigate alleged police brutality against protesters, whom they said Lam should stop labelling "rioters". Introducing genuine universal suffrage was also on the list of demands.
Students at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, another of the eight higher education institutions, were also invited but have not yet decided, a source at the student union there said.
Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule on Jul 1, 1997 under a "one country, two systems" formula that allows freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, including freedom of protest and a much-cherished independent judiciary.
But many city residents recent what they see as increasing meddling by the mainland and the erosion of freedoms.
Beijing denies interfering but nevertheless, many people in Hong Kong see the proposed extradition law as more tightening of the mainland's control over the financial hub.