About Sutirtho Patranobis

Short, fat, nasty, nearing soft middle age. Pretentious and philistine. After 38 busy months as a lotus eater in Colombo, now in Beijing getting used to the haze that often drowns the day; and to the many Chinese who are willing to help someone struggling with Mandarin. Learnt to say subway instead of metro. Yet to pass the acid test of picking up a peanut with chopsticks.

The first round of talks between Hong Kong government officials and representatives of the Occupy Central movement on Tuesday ended where it had begun – without any resolution in sight.

The televised talks held at an academic institution went for about two hours and were closely followed by Hong Kong citizens, thousands of whom had gathered on the streets to watch it on big screens.

The atmosphere, as described in some reports, might have been carnival but pro-democracy protesters would have been expectedly disappointed at the end of the dialogue.

Officials only indicated that there could be more dialogue and that the Hong Kong government would submit a report on the demands and arguments of the protesters to the Central Chinese leadership in Beijing.

The HK government made it amply clear – both before and during the talks – that Beijing will not go back on the decision that an appointed committee would vet the two to three candidates who would stand for election the city’s chief executive in 2017.

And, that’s precisely against what the pro-democracy Occupy Central protesters are fighting against; they want to directly choose their leader in 2017 by directly voting for candidates who do not have to be vetted by a committee that is expected to be packed with pro-Mainland members.

CY Leung, the current chief executive of the city – of more than 7 million residents – has said the withdrawal of that order by the National People’s Congress, or China’s Parliament, was out of the question.

Beijing, in turn, has bestowed complete faith on Leung thereby negating the other major demand made by the protesters – Leung’s resignation because he, according to the agitators, had failed to protect Hong Kong’s interests.

So, where does that leave the protests? Already, a HK court has ordered agitators to stop blocking streets as it was causing inconvenience to citizens and hurting the city’s trade and economics.

The Central government too has been hardening its stand. It has repeatedly called the agitation illegal and criticised the foreign governments, which have shown some sympathy for the protesters.

In fact, Leung has indicated that some governments had shown more than sympathy:

On Tuesday, he said that he would disclose the involvement of “external forces” behind the Occupy Central movement at an appropriate time and that he was not merely speculating about such involvement.

So, the question comes back: where does all this leave the protests in the coming days?

As of now, it looks like the protesters, most of them students, do not have much space to maneuver. There is the likelihood of more talks with the government but that would probably focus on making some cursory changes in the committee that would eventually vet the 2017 candidates. There could also be some talk about reforming the system before the 2022 elections.

It is unlikely that the intensity and numbers of the initial protest will return. Some students might continue to carry on the sit-in a relay form.

It remains to be seen what the strategy of the protesters will be in the coming days and weeks.

Last week, I spoke to two student leaders at the forefront of the demonstrations that had all but pulled down the shutters over the global financing hub of Hong Kong.

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