Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam has asked to meet students in the city, as the embattled leader tries to fend off pressure from a month-long crisis over opposition to a proposed law that would allow extradition to mainland China.
Protesters stormed Hong Kong’s legislature 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 sent for trial in the mainland. Lam, who is backed by Beijing, said she has paused efforts to push for the bill, but protesters are demanding a full withdrawal.
In an emailed statement, a spokeswoman for Lam said late on Thursday Lam had “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 eight major higher education institutions, turned down the offer, saying Lam 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 spokeswoman said the chief executive hoped the HKUST student union would 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 June 9 and July 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 have echoed opposition calls in recent weeks for the withdrawing of the extradition bill, for Lam to step down and for an investigation into complaints of police brutality against protesters.
They have also called for Lam to stop labeling protesters “rioters” and to introduce genuine universal suffrage.
Students at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, another of the city’s eight higher education institutions, were also invited to meet Lam but had not decided how to respond, a source at the student union there said.
Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule on July 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 resent 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.