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Chinese Official in Hong Kong Warns Against More Protests

Thousands of pro-democracy activists take part in a democracy march to Central, demanding for universal suffrage in Hong Kong Sunday, Feb. 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Chinese Official in Hong Kong Warns Against More Protests
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China’s top official in Hong Kong has warned activists against continuing their democracy campaign. Zhang Xiaoming spoke to a gathering of 4,000 people in Hong Kong. The crowd included Hong Kong's chief executive and leading Chinese business officials.

Mr. Zhang said China’s central government will not permit any rejection of its rule over the city. He said activists could not campaign for independence or criticize the central government, in his words, “through illegal ways.”

Pro-democracy demonstrators camped in central parts of the city for two months last year. They demanded the right to a direct election to fill the office of Chief Executive. Chinese officials have proposed that Hong Kong holds a direct vote. But, they say an election committee will choose the candidates.

The vote for chief executive is planned for 2017.

Activists have said they will continue a campaign of civil disobedience.

The most recent pro-democracy demonstration in Hong Kong was last Sunday. It was the first in more than a month.

It did not get the 50,000 demonstrators organizers had expected. But democracy activists say the march showed continuing support for election reform in the city. Organizers estimate 13,000 people attended the recent march. Police say more than 8,000 people took part.

Eighteen-year-old Joshua Wong is a leader of the student demonstrations for democracy. He says there are still many people demanding the right to directly vote for Hong Kong’s next leader.

“I think it’s important for us to show our persistence before the council members vote in the council. We will try our best to fight for true universal suffrage.”

Activists say they plan a series of peaceful demonstrations to continue until lawmakers vote on Hong Kong’s electoral plans. The date for that vote is not set.

Emily Lau heads Hong Kong’s Democratic Party. Earlier this week, she said there were signs that democracy activists and the government could reach a compromise.

“Because there are people from the pro-Beijing camp and even government sources who are coming out to say that they wish to discuss with the legislators from the pro-democracy camp.”

Pro-democracy legislators are also taking action. They have used filibusters to pressure Hong Kong’s leadership to listen to protesters’ demands. The lawmakers have given long speeches in an effort to block action in the Legislative Council.

William Lam is a China expert at the University of Hong Kong. He does not think more democratic reform is in Hong Kong’s near future.

“At this stage, it doesn't seem possible that Beijing would allow Hong Kong to develop a high degree of democracy.”

He says he believes the central government would re-start loyalistic education programs for Hong Kong’s young people. He says the government probably will propose new legislation that targets protesters.

“It’s possible that Beijing will introduce so-called state security legislations on issues like sedition and other acts…”

The expert says strong action from the central government could lead to an exodus, a situation in which many people leave a place at the same time.

“Members of the professional classes may immigrate to other countries.”

Joseph Cheng is with Hong Kong’s Alliance for Democracy and a professor of international relations at the University of Hong Kong. He says protest organizers must continue the pressure.

“Hong Kong people don’t want to see Hong Kong be reduced to just another big city in China. And I think all pro-democracy groups understand that as long as we don’t give up, we have not lost the cause. At least it is important to fight on to maintain our principles, our dignity.”

I’m Caty Weaver.

Shannon Van Sant reported this story from Hong Kong. Caty Weaver wrote it for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.


Words in This Story

persistence n. the quality that allows someone to continue doing something or trying to do something even though it is difficult or opposed by other people

suffrage n. the right to vote in an election

principle – n. a moral rule or belief that helps you know what is right and wrong and that influences your actions

exodusn. a situation in which many people leave a place at the same time

dignity – n. a way of appearing or behaving that suggests seriousness and self-control

Should activists in Hong Kong continue to demonstrate for wider voting rights? Should China permit the people of the city to choose the candidates that seek the office of chief executive? What do you think? Let us know, and practice your written English, in the comments section below.