Carrie Lam invites Hong Kong university students to closed-door talks

Chief Executive Carrie Lam at a news conference in Hong Kong on July 2, 2019. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

HONG KONG - Hong Kong's embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam has asked to meet students in the city, in what appears to be a move to mitigate tensions that have been building between the city's leadership and protesters.

Ms Lam reportedly reached out to the student unions of at least two universities - Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) and Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) - via their university administrations, for a closed-door meeting. So far, neither group has accepted the invitation to meet Mrs Lam.

Since June 9, protesters have been taking to the streets to oppose a controversial extradition Bill, which could see suspects in the territory sent to mainland China.

The protesters fear that, if passed, the Bill would erode Hong Kong's autonomy and could be used to target Beijing's critics.

HKUST, CUHK and the University of Hong Kong (HKU) are the three top tertiary institutions in city. HKU students have not been invited to meet Mrs Lam.

At a press conference on Friday (July 5), student representatives from eight universities and institutes of higher learning listed two conditions that the government would need to satisfy if the meeting were to go ahead.

First, the government must drop all charges against those who took part in the protests from June 9 to July 1; second, it must hold an open, not closed-door, meeting.

On Monday (July 1) - 22 years after Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule by the British in 1997 - student protesters besieged the Legislative Council building before storming and ransacking the place.

"We want the meeting to be open because our student unions are not representative of all protesters in Hong Kong. We cannot claim to be representative of all their views," Mr Vincent Ng, a vice-president at HKUST's student union, told The Straits Times.

The business undergraduate added that if the closed-door talks failed, those who took part could be blamed and this would affect the unity of the protest movement.

"We are open to having dialogue, but if we talk, we should talk together, with representatives from different sectors, and the meeting should be open to the public and media," said Mr Ng, 20.

A spokesman for Mrs Lam told Reuters that the chief executive hoped that 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".

HKU student union representative Jordan Pang said he felt the government called for a meeting with just students from the two universities because it wanted "to understand or know our stance first".

But he also noted that the two student unions were not representative of all students.

"We are not being unreasonable. This is a public movement, it doesn't make sense to just meet this small group of students," he said.

CUHK vice-chancellor and president Rocky Tuan urged all parties on Friday to come together to set up a platform for dialogue that would include government and citizens from various backgrounds.

He said in an open letter that such dialogue "will shed light on a way forward to put the society on the path of reconciliation".

Meanwhile, street artist Pun Ho Chiu, nicknamed Painter, became the first person to be prosecuted for his involvement in the protests.

The 31-year-old was charged on Friday with assaulting a police officer, criminal damage and disorderly behaviour during the siege of the police headquarters on June 21.

Police have yet to release the number of protesters rounded up so far, but dozens are believed to have been arrested.

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