The Hong Kong government on Tuesday held the first formal talks with student leaders speaking for sit-in protesters to find a peaceful way to end the Occupy Central movement which started on Sept. 28.
Sitting opposite to each other, five government officials and five student representatives shared views on how the region's next leader will be elected by universal suffrage in 2017 for two hours.
The meeting, presided over by Lingnan University President Leonard Cheng, was held in the Hong Kong Academy of Medicine where the press is only allowed to watch live TV broadcast of the talks in a separate room except for a five-minute photo session.
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam and his aide Lau Kong-wah, as well as Edward Yau, director of the Chief Executive's Office, attended the meeting as government representatives.
Alex Chow, one of the key leaders of the protesting students, and his aide Lester Shum as well as three other members of the Hong Kong Federation of Students - Eason Chung, Nathan Law, Yvonne Leung - spoke for the student protesters.
At the start of the talks, Carrie Lam said the government respected the students' persistence in their pursue for democracy which, however, should be sought for in a legal, fair and reasonable approach.
She hoped the students could take the interests of Hong Kong people and take the lead to urge protesters to leave the areas being occupied as it would not help solve disputes over constitutional reform.
Hong Kong's first chief executive was elected by a 400-member Selection Committee, while the second, third and fourth chief executives were elected by the Election Committee, with its membership increasing from 800 to 1,200.
Under Hong Kong's Basic Law and the decision of Standing Committee of China's National People's Congress (NPC), the top legislature of the country, more than 5 million qualified Hong Kong voters could have a say to who will become the chief executive in 2017 through the "one man, one vote" election, which had never been realized under the British colonial rule.
Alex Chow, secretary-general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, said during talks with government representative that many Hong Kong citizens disagree with the decision of the National People's Congress Standing Committee on Aug. 31, and that an unfair method for the planned universal suffrage would lead Hong Kong to a society with widening income gap.
According to the Basic Law and the top legislature's interpretation in 2004, there is a five-step process in Hong Kong' s constitutional development.
The first two steps are: the chief executive to make a report to the NPC Standing Committee as to whether there is a need to amend the election methods for the chief executive and the region' s legislative body, and the NPC Standing Committee to make a decision for whether the election methods need to be amended.
After Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying delivered a report on Hong Kong's constitutional development to the top legislature, the NPC standing Committee on Aug. 31 made a decision which allows universal suffrage in selecting Hong Kong's chief executive from 2017 onward with two or three candidates nominated by a "broadly representative" nomination committee.
Thousands of protesters later took to the streets to express their discontent with the top legislature's decision, asking for " civil nomination" of the candidates.
Student representatives at the talks complained that the NPC Standing Committee's decision would shut door on Hong Kong's pro- democracy camp to become candidates, and blamed it on that Leung's report did not allow different voices to be heard by the top legislature.
Carrie Lam said the government has conducted a careful consultation on the region's constitutional reform, and the report submitted by the chief executive has taken into consideration the views of all circles in Hong Kong.
She did not agree that the election under the framework of the NPC's decision is adopting a "hand picking" approach, adding that the election method is not ultimate and there are still rooms for discussion according to the actual situation and public opinions.
She suggested that it would be better to think about how to increase democratic components and transparency of the election process rather than to resist the decision.
A fair, equal and transparent election method of the chief executive election could be brought forward by society through further public consultation.
The representatives of the Federation of Students argued whether the decision made by the NPC Standing Committee on Aug. 31 could be altered or revised.
However, Rimsky Yuen said that besides giving green light to reform on the chief executive election, the top legislature also has the power to outline a direction for Hong Kong's constitutional development at the second step.
Yuen stressed that Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China and the central authorities have a responsibility and power to handle Hong Kong's constitutional development issues.