HONG KONG – Hong Kong officials and student leaders will hold talks Tuesday to try to end pro-democracy protests that have gripped the southern Chinese city for more than three weeks, though chances of success are slim given the vast differences between the two sides.
The city's Beijing-backed leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, won't be attending the discussions. But he reaffirmed his position that China's communist leaders won't allow Hong Kong citizens to openly nominate candidates for inaugural elections in 2017 to succeed him.
In comments to some foreign media, Leung said giving in to student-led protesters' demands for full democracy in the Asian business hub would give the city's poor too much say.
Leung's comments underline how the protests have been fueled by discontent among the young over soaring inequality in the former British colony. Protesters have occupied main streets in three areas of the city since Sept. 28 to demand that the government abandon plans to use a pro-Beijing committee of elites to screen election candidates, but authorities have indicated that there is little room for compromise.
The student protest leaders and the government are sending five representatives each to the discussions, to be held Tuesday evening and broadcast live.
Protesters camped out at the main demonstration zone, outside the government's downtown headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty district, held out little hope that the talks would end the impasse, though they thought they would help get their position out to the wider population.
"I think we all understand that we can't really get any concrete results," said protester Vee Chow, sitting outside her tent. "But at least an open dialogue can tell everybody why we are all here."
Speaking to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times on Monday evening, Leung also downplayed expectations for the talks while justifying the decision to prevent those earning less than half of Hong Kong's median monthly income of $1,800 to nominate candidates. He said the city "would end up with that kind of politics and policies," according to the reports.