Hong Kong protests: Netizens lampoon government negotiators in viral graphics

HONG KONG (AFP) - Hong Kong government negotiators who sat down to crunch talks with student leaders have become figures of online derision with netizens mocking them as empty vases, garbage bins and Teletubbies.

Five student leaders, in their early twenties and dressed in T-shirts bearing the slogan "Freedom Now", faced off against five suited senior government officials in tense talks at a medical college campus on Tuesday night.

The discussions made little headway but provided ample opportunity for online satirists who portrayed the government team as out-of-touch and with little to offer protesters demanding full democracy in the southern Chinese city.

In one graphic that quickly went viral, the government's lead negotiator, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, was pictured as a decorative empty vase while her colleague Raymond Tam was replaced by a cassette player.

Another showed the negotiating team dressed up as characters from the British children television series the "Teletubbies".

Mr Ray Lau, the undersecretary of constitutional and mainland affairs, came in for a mauling as netizens noticed he had remained silent throughout the tense two-hour discussions.

In one popular meme a picture of a solemn-looking Lau was overlayed with the title of the popular country ballad: "You say it best, when you say nothing at all."

Many cartoons portrayed him as hiding inside Hong Kong's signature-orange garbage bins.

Mr Lau, a staunch pro-Beijing politician and former lawmaker, has often been the target of jokes for democracy campaigners.

When he lost his legislative seat in 2012, activists held a party on the streets outside his offices complete with a buffet and jubilant singing. He was appointed to his current position in late 2012.

The first talks held between the government and student leaders provided no breakthrough and were broadcast live on large screens to thousands of rapt democracy demonstrators inside their barricades.

The crowds often erupted into loud cheers and applause when the student leaders made fiery speeches attacking the city's government, while the other side were jeered.

The government said they hoped for further talks but the students remain uncommitted and have vowed to keep up their occupation until more concrete proposals are offered by the city's administration.

Protesters want to be able to nominate and vote for Hong Kong's next leader. But Beijing has insisted anyone who stands in 2017 must be vetted by a loyalist panel before standing for election.

During the discussions, officials said there was still room to make the vetting panel more democratic, without giving further details.

They also said they would brief Beijing on recent events and suggested both sides could set up a committee to discuss further political reform beyond 2017.