Hong Kong protests: Premier Li stresses social stability

Pro-democracy protesters attend a rally in the occupied areas outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty, 10 October 2014 Image copyright AP
Image caption Thousands of pro-democracy campaigners rallied outside the government headquarters on Friday

China's Premier Li Keqiang says he is sure social stability can be maintained in Hong Kong, as pro-democracy protests in the region entered a third week.

Mr Li made his comments during his trip to Germany, where he and Chancellor Angela Merkel signed trade agreements.

Thousands of protesters, demanding fully democratic elections, have paralysed parts of Hong Kong.

China has agreed to direct elections in 2017, but wants control over which candidates can stand.

The pro-democracy protests, which had tens of thousands of participants at their peak, had decreased in size over the past week, as the government and student leaders agreed to hold talks.

However, the government called off the talks on Thursday, saying the students' refusal to end their protest had made "constructive dialogue" impossible.

Leaders of the student movement also called on supporters to return to the streets, saying they would escalate their campaign if the government did not agree to meet them.

Image copyright AP
Image caption The protests have been largely peaceful, but have paralysed parts of the financial district
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Protesters, including many students, slept in the streets on Friday night

China's state media has strongly criticised the pro-democracy sit-in, describing it as an "illegal movement" driven by "evil forces".

'Long-term prosperity'

Speaking in a joint press conference with Mrs Merkel on Friday, Mr Li did not mention the protests directly.

However, he said: "Maintaining the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong is not only in China's interests but is mostly in the interests of the people of Hong Kong."

"I am sure the people of Hong Kong and the government of Hong Kong have the competency to ensure the wealth and stability of society... [while] protecting residents from injury and property damage."

He said there would be "no change" to the "high degree of autonomy" currently enjoyed by Hong Kong, adding that "Hong Kong's affairs belong to the internal affairs of China".

Mrs Merkel said: "The demonstrations have gone peacefully, and I hope it can remain that way."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Many local residents are angered at how the demonstrations have disrupted transport and businesses
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Li Keqiang (left) and Angela Merkel signed several trade deals during the Chinese Premier's visit

Mrs Merkel added that she hoped that "in a free exchange of opinions, solutions are found that satisfy the population in Hong Kong".

'Promised democracy'

The demonstrations are centred on how Hong Kong's leader, known as the chief executive, should be elected.

The protesters want to be able to directly elect Hong Kong's leader.

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Media captionThe BBC's Juliana Liu: Activists hope new show of strength will... sustain the movement

Under the current system, the chief executive is elected by a 1,200-person committee that consists primarily of pro-Beijing groups.

China has promised a public vote in the 2017 chief executive elections, but it says all candidates to be approved by a similar nominating committee - effectively giving Beijing the ability to screen out candidates.

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Media captionHong Kong Chief Secretary Carrie Lam said that the basis for constructive dialogue had been "undermined"

Activists in Hong Kong say this falls short of full democracy.

A key organiser of the protest group Occupy Central, Benny Tai, told the BBC that the government should offer protests a "roadmap" towards fully democratic elections in Hong Kong.

"In our constitution, the Basic Law, we have been promised with universal suffrage... you do not have such things in other parts of China," Dr Tai said.

Hong Kong's mini-constitution came into effect after the former British colony was handed back to China in 1997.

It states that "the ultimate aim is the selection of the chief executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures".

Hong Kong democracy timeline

  • 1984: Britain and China sign an agreement where Hong Kong is guaranteed "a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs" for 50 years following the handover in 1997
  • 2004: China says it must approve any changes to Hong Kong's election laws
  • June-July 2014: Pro-democracy activists hold an unofficial referendum on political reform and a large rally. This is followed by protests by pro-Beijing activists
  • 31 August 2014: China says it will allow direct elections in 2017, but voters will only be able to choose from a list of pre-approved candidates. Activists stage protests
  • 22 September 2014: Student groups launch a week-long boycott of classes in protest
  • 28 September 2014: Occupy Central and student protests join forces and take over central Hong Kong
  • 2 October 2014: Chief Executive CY Leung refuses demands for his resignation, offers talks with government. Student leaders later accept the offer
  • 2017: Direct elections for chief executive due to take place

Q&A: Hong Kong's democracy controversy

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