Hong Kong Government Calls Off Talks With Pro-Democracy Groups Who Respond: “The Government has no sincerity.”

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More broken promises from Hong Kong (or is it Beijing this time?)

Hong Kong's Chief Secretary Carrie Lam addresses a press conference in Hong Kong on July 15, 2014
Photo: Hong Kong’s Chief Secretary Carrie Lam asked for the “illegal” occupations of Hong Kong to stop

By James Pomfret and Clare Baldwin

HONG KONG, Oct 9 (Reuters) – Hong Kong called off talks with protesting students on Thursday, dealing a heavy blow to attempts to defuse a political crisis that has seen tens of thousands take to the streets to demand free elections and calling for leader Leung Chun-ying to resign.

The government’s decision came as democratic lawmakers demanded anti-graft officers investigate a $6.4 million business payout to Leung while in office, as political fallout grows from the mass protests in the Chinese-controlled city.

It was not immediately clear what the students’ next move would be – whether to ramp up the street protests or make plans to fight another day. They were to hold a news conference later in the evening.

“Students’ call for an expansion of an uncooperative movement has shaken the trust of the basis of our talks and it will be impossible to have a constructive dialog,” Chief Secretary Carrie Lam said on the eve of the planned dialog.

She blamed the pull-out on students’ unswerving demands for universal suffrage, which she said was not in accordance with the Asian financial center’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, and what she described as their illegal occupation of parts of the city.

Hours earlier, Hong Kong’s Justice Department handed to prosecutors the investigation of the business payout to Leung by an Australian engineering company.

Part of the brief includes “considering and deciding whether prosecution action is warranted” against Leung, who has refused to stand down in recent weeks over protesters’ calls for Beijing to keep its promise of universal suffrage.

The department said its decision was aimed at avoiding “any possible perception of bias, partiality or improper influence.”

The campaign against the former property surveyor and son of a policeman has extended from the streets to the city’s legislative chambers where democrats have threatened to veto major decisions and potentially cause policy paralysis.

LEUNG DENIES WRONGDOING

Australia’s Fairfax Media reported this week that engineering firm UGL Ltd paid Leung a total of $6.4 million in 2012 and 2013 in relation to its acquisition of DTZ Holdings, a property consultant that employed Leung as its Asia Pacific director before he took office in July 2012.

Leung’s office denied any wrongdoing. DTZ was not immediately available to comment, while UGL said it was under no obligation to disclose the agreement.

As part of the contract Leung signed with UGL in December 2011, he agreed to promote the “UGL Group and the DTZ Group as UGL may reasonably require, including but not limited to acting as a referee and adviser from time to time,” according to a copy seen by Reuters.

Leung’s office said in a statement that such assistance would only be provided in the event that he failed to be elected Hong Kong leader, and providing that such assistance would not create any conflict of interest.

Leung stepped down from DTZ on December 4, 2011, two days after signing the deal with UGL, which acquired the property consultancy. Leung was sworn in as Hong Kong chief executive in July 2012.

“After CY Leung became CE (chief executive), he should have terminated the contract, because as a CE, it was impossible for him to continue accepting huge payment to help promote UGL or DTZ,” Democratic Party chief executive Lam Cheuk-ting said in a letter to the Independent Commission Against Corruption seen by Reuters.

“There’s reason to believe that CY Leung was eyeing the unpaid remuneration by UGL so that he continued with the agreement. Even worse, since CY Leung honored the agreement and accepted the payment, how could he not declare to the Executive Council?” said Lam, who is a former anti-graft agency official.

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Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung is now tainted by scandal. Image: Protesters gather outside the offices of the Independent Commission Against Corruption in Hong Kong on October 9, 2014 (AFP Photo/Ed Jones)

The ICAC said it did not comment on individual cases.

UGL said the agreement was simply a non-compete arrangement to ensure that Leung would not move to a competitor, set up or promote any business in competition with DTZ, or poach any people from DTZ.

Emily Lau, head of the Democratic Party, told Reuters it would try to form a select committee to investigate and possibly impeach Leung, although the formation of such a group would have to be backed by the entire 70-seat legislature and there was no guarantee that would happen, given the pro-Beijing majority.

POLICY BACKLOG

Scenes of tear gas wafting between some of the world’s most valuable buildings, violent clashes, mass disruptions to business and commuter chaos over the past 11 days have underscored the challenges Beijing faces in imposing its will on Hong Kong.

The protests have already caused a backlog in the former British colony’s Legislative Council where scores of meetings have been canceled.

China’s Communist Party leaders rule Hong Kong through a “one country, two systems” formula which allows wide-ranging autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland and specifies universal suffrage as an eventual goal. One of those freedoms is an independent judiciary.

But Beijing ruled on Aug. 31 it would screen candidates who want to run for chief executive in 2017, which the democracy activists said rendered the universal suffrage concept meaningless.

Democratic lawmakers on Thursday threatened to veto some government funding applications, although none that affect people’s daily lives, as they step up their civil disobedience campaign and try to paralyze government operations.

Protest numbers have dwindled to just a few hundred people at various sites around the city, but activists have managed to keep up their blockade of some major roads.

The Fairfax Media report does not suggest Leung committed any crime, although it raises questions about transparency.

Leung signed the deal with UGL in December 2011, two days before he stepped down as Asia Pacific director of DTZ, which is now a division of UGL.

He had already announced his plans to run for Hong Kong’s top job, although his main rival, Henry Tang, was the presumed front-runner until he was tarnished by an illegal construction scandal and self-confessed marital infidelities.

An election committee stacked with Beijing loyalists chose Leung as leader in March 2012 and he was sworn in on July 1.

Leung’s company, CY Leung & Co, merged with DTZ in 2000. He was a key player in the company’s expansion into China. (Additional reporting by Greg Torode, Farah Master, Donny Kwok, Clare Jim, Michelle Price, Denny Thomas and Jane Wardell; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Nick Macfie)

HONG KONG

HONG KONG – OCTOBER 8: Pro-democracy demonstrators near the Government Complex in Hong Kong on October 8 2014. Protesters continued to block main transport routes, after a peaceful night of demonstrations in the Chinese territory. The protests followed a decision last month by China’s top legislative body to restrict the nominations for chief executive in 2017. The candidate who wins the popular vote would have to be formally approved by the central government before taking office. (Photo by Th | Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
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 http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1612602/live-democracy-advocates-urge-unity-occupy-movement-enters-12th-day
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10.30pm Causeway Bay: Ian Chan Kok-hin, external vice-president of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, describes the governments’ decision as “insincere”. “The government is forcing the students and citizens to continue the occupation.” He stresses that “occupying the roads is just one means of civil disobedience, but there are others.”Chan says that the Occupy movement, the Federation of Students, the Scholarism movement and other NGO’s will launch another round of civil disobedience. “Boycotting the payment of government taxes” is one of the actions being considered, he says. “The government will have to listen the public.”

10.10pm: More quotes from the Federation of Students press conference:

Federation of Students secretary general Alex Chow Yong-Kang said student leaders were disappointed that Carrie Lam used the students’ remarks as “an excuse” to call off dialogue.

“Lam said we were making use of the dialogue to call for more people to take to the streets, when the number of protesters is diminishing … But in fact it was a large crowd that could force the government to back down a bit. So, citizens should come back and take to the streets,” Chow says.

He also dismissed suggestions that students’ warning about a non-cooperative movement had ruined the chance for dialogue. “We were only saying that if the dialogue doesn’t result in any progress, there will be such a movement, but officials said we had already started it,” Chow said. “If the chief secretary was sincere, the dialogue would still be going on tomorrow.”

Chow also emphasised that it was reasonable for the people to call for the national legislature to scrap its restrictive framework on political reform, and for public nomination. “The government has complete responsibility for this political crisis … [Officials] should be working towards resolving this chaos and clear up this mess,” he added.

9.50pm Causeway Bay: Protesters in Causeway Bay widely criticise the government’s decision to cancelling talks between officials and students. Sunny Cheung Kwan-yang,18, university student, who has been one of the most outspoken voices in the Causeway Bay occupation, says that the government’s withdrawal is “unreasonable” and “ridiculous”. He believes the decision will bring more people to the streets tomorrow. “We must keep up the Occupy movement,” Cheung said.

Stella Chan,18, a university student and a volunteer who has been joining protests for about two weeks, described the government’s decision as “irresponsible”.

English lecturer Horace Li, 36, couldn’t find an explanation for the government’s announcement. “They are getting so irrational about it. If they want to resolve the issue, they have to open a channel of communication. I don’t think that closing the door is a good idea,” he says. Li also says the government were fuelling people’s dissatisfaction with their actions. “People in the street are loosing faith and hope in the government.”

As a next step, Li suggests a new round of class boycotts by high school students could further put pressure on the government. “The people of Hong Kong are too gentle and polite in their striking”.

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9.35pm: Shum says that the student group offered to meet the government in July but since government representatives declined, they decided to start a civil disobedience movement. The first time the government agreed to talks, the federation called off talks, in the wake of violent attacks by suspected triadsinMongKok, Shum says.The second round of talks were cancelled after the government failed to find a venue, resulting in the talks being cancelled. This time, the government cancelled talks because theHKFS federation announced another round of non-cooperation movements, despitethere being no prerequisites for doing so, the vice-secretary says.
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9.20pm: Hong Kong Federation of Students’ Secretary Alex ChowYong-kang says the government have not shown sincerity by cancelling tomorrow’s proposed talks.HKFS vice-secretary Lester Shum says the government had set no prerequisites for the talks, yet decided to cancel them anyway. Students say they onlyhad had one prerequisite for cancelling talks, and that was if there were any more violent attacks on protesters, as in the case last week inMongKok.
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9.00pm Representatives of the Federation of Students begin a press conference to brief the media on their response to the government’s decision to call off talks. More to follow…8.45pmMongKok: Protesters rallying attheMongKok occupy site criticise the government’s decision to call off talks with student leaders tomorrow. Polytechnic University student Patrick Lau accuses the administration of lacking sincerity for a dialogue. “I did not expect the talks to go smoothly… The government should not assume there would not be any [positive] results from the talks,” he says.Cherry Cheung, a researcher at a university, slams the government for delaying the talks and wait for protesters number to dwindle. “If [the government] says stepping up the civil disobedience campaign is not constructive, calling off the talks is even less constructive,” Cheung says.Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (R) …

8.35pm: The government’s decision to call off tomorrow’s scheduled dialogue with the Hong Kong Federation of Students was in response to recent remarks made by student representatives which “undermined the basis for a constructive dialogue”, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor tells the media at a press briefing.

The decision comes just hours after the federation announced another round of non-cooperation movements, in which they called on more citizens to join the Occupy protests if dialogue with the government failed to offer substantial changes to the city’s political reform.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam speaks on the latest situation on Occupy Central. Photo: Edward Wong

 

Lam said such remarks went against the principles behind the planned talks, adding that when and whether or not the “illegal occupation” would end should not be used as a bargaining chip in the dialogue. Any discussion on reform should be within the framework of the Basic Law, Lam added, citing the other “principle” behind the talks.

“We regret to make such announcement as we know the public’s expectations for dialogue remains high,” Lam said. She added the government had not, and would not, set prerequisites for future dialogue, which could be resumed when student representatives showed an “equal sense of sincerity” towards constructive talks.

8.15pm: Reacting to the governments’ decision, Chinese University Students’ Union president Tommy Cheung Sau-yin says: “The government taking the initiative to call off the dialogue makes people doubt officials’ sincerity.”

Cheung continued: “I think the key is not whether there is a series of non-cooperative movements … people will join that movement if they support it. But more people are looking at whether any progress can be made at the talks. If no progress is made, a lot of people would be disappointed and rejoin the occupation.”

7.55pm: Lam says students have not met the basic conditions for dialogue to go ahead as planned:

“The talk is based on two conditions: First the discussion must be within the framework of the decision made by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee. Second it must not be linked to the Occupy movement. Unfortunately, the protesters rejected the rational proposal and went back to their old position.

“They now insist on public nomination and to abolish the decision made by the NPCSC. They also link the dialogue with the Occupy movement and even said the movement would last until the talks produce a result [they want]. This is sacrificing public good for their political demands, and is against public interests and political ethics.”

7.35pm: Carrie Lam tells a press conference that talks with students scheduled for tomorrow are cancelled after protest leaders called on members of the public to gather at Harcourt Road before the dialogue to put pressure on the government.

7.30pm: Principal economist Andrew Au Sik-hung, of the Financial Services and Treasury Bureau, warns the city’s economic growth could slow as the retailing and catering markets shrink amid the protests.

http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1612602/live-democracy-advocates-urge-unity-occupy-movement-enters-12th-day

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