The Chinese government has rejected all five demands of the Hong Kong protesters, while police in the special administrative region have begun rounding up pro-democracy leaders.
According to Reuters—which cited three people with direct knowledge of matter—the Chinese Communist Party has ordered Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam not to bow to any of the protesters’ demands, including the full and final withdrawal of the controversial extradition bill that sparked the unrest in March.
Beijing was initially relatively restrained in its reaction to the protests, which have seen millions take to Hong Kong’s streets. But as the movement persisted, the Chinese government has become more vocal regarding what it has described as riots and “near terrorism.”
Nonetheless, Reuters noted that the Communist Party is believed to have been directing the Hong Kong’s government’s response to the unrest.
Lam submitted a report on the protests some time between June 16—when Lam announced the suspension of the proposed withdrawal bill—and August 7, Reuters reported citing two of its three sources.
Chinese government officials analyzed Lam’s report at a meeting on August 7 in the border city of Shenzhen, where Chinese military and paramilitary troops have been gathering in recent weeks. Reuters reported that Chinese President Xi Jinping was aware of the report and the meeting to discuss it.
The protesters have five central demands: the full withdrawal of the extradition bill, an independent inquiry into the protests, fully democratic elections, dropping of the term “riot” in describing protests, and a general amnesty for all those so far arrested.
One senior government official in the Hong Kong administration told Reuters that the withdrawal of the bill and an independent inquiry—which would also consider allegations of police brutality—were seen as the more feasible, Communist Party officials rejected all of the requests.
Another officials, with close ties to senior Hong Kong official, told the agency: “They said no…The situation is far more complicated than most people realize.” The Chinese government instead ordered Lam not to withdraw the bill nor to launch an inquiry into the protests, Reuters said.
The extradition bill would have allowed the region’s government to extradite criminals to China for trial. Opponents feared it would allow Beijing to target political opponents in Hong Kong and undermine the “one country, two systems” accord under which the island has been governed since it was transferred from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
Jacques deLisle, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and an expert in Chinese law and politics, told Newsweek that—if confirmed—the news that China has rejected the protesters’ demands is “not very surprising.”
DeLisle explained that the central government has been “taking an increasingly tough line toward the protests through much of July and especially in early August,” for example official references to a “color revolution” or allegations of “terrorism.”
“It is also broadly characteristic of Xi Jinping’s style of governance,” he continued. “Whether you subscribe to the theory that he is an insecure leader who cannot afford to show weakness or invite a democratic contagion in the mainland, or whether you think he is an almost Mao-like strong leader who can—and chooses to—disregard opposition in Hong Kong and criticism from abroad, the pattern is one of intransigence and rejection of compromise.”
Meanwhile, Hong Kong police have arrested multiple pro-democracy figures as they prepare for what will be the thirteenth weekend of consecutive marches. Among those detained was Joshua Wong, who came to prominence during the 2014 Umbrella Movement protests, in which activists demanded full democratic elections in the territory.
Wong was arrested alongside fellow activist Agnes Chow on Friday. Both belong to the pro-democracy Demosisto movement, and have now been released on bail, the organization said.
Following his release on bail, Wong wrote on Twitter: “My arrest shows the government answers our request for a dialogue with batons, tear gas, rubber bullets and mass arrest. Our freedom of assembly and other fundamental rights are eroded.”
Though the police have characterized the arrests as routine, deLisle said this explanation has “fallen on deaf ears” with the protesters and their supporters. The arrests were made ahead of the weekend protests, which is scheduled to mark the fifth anniversary of China’s rejection of democratic reforms to the Hong Kong political process. “The timing is, at the very least, suspicious,” deLisle suggested.
Police have arrested more than 900 people since the mass demonstrations began in June, CNN reported. As the unrest wears on, clashes between police—occasionally backed by alleged pro-Beijing gangs—and anti-government activists have become increasingly violent.
Police have attempted to clear crowds using tear gas, rubber bullets, bean bag rounds, water cannons and baton charges. Last weekend, a police officer fired a live round for the first time since the demonstrations began, as a warning shot to push back protesters.
Marchers have been arming themselves with helmets, gas masks, makeshift shields and clubs, while others have used projectiles—including accusations of Molotov cocktails—in clashes with officers.
This article has been updated to include reaction from Joshua Wong and comments from Jacques deLisle.