Chinese authorities have said they won’t launch an independent inquiry into the unrest in Hong Kong, despite admitting that it is the worst since the region returned to Chinese rule 22 years ago.
An independent inquiry is one of the key demands of protesters, and one which even some pro-Beijing lawmakers and business leaders support.
On Wednesday, the head of Beijing’s top agency in Hong Kong said the protests must end before any investigation would be carried out.
The director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, Zhang Xiaoming, affirmed the mainland’s stance at a gathering of city representatives in Shenzhen, according to Michael Tien, a pro-establishment Hong Kong lawmaker who was at the event.
“They spent the whole morning stating the central government’s stance: There’s no room for any compromise,” said Tien, but added he was hopeful Beijing might eventually change its mind.
The response shows how the positions of both the government and the protesters have become increasingly polarised. Some radical protesters have begun attacking symbols of Chinese sovereignty, such as the flag, while opposition leaders have accused the government of colluding with the mobs who have attacked protesters in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, Chief Executive Carrie Lam has refused to concede to the protesters’ main requests.
Instead, she has said that grievances against the police would be reviewed by a complaints council – the members of which are mostly pro-establishment.
“Some people may not agree with our response, but we have considered every factor involved and come up with the response that we have made,” Lam said at a news briefing on Monday. The police also denied being linked to the mobs attacking protesters.
The call for an independent enquiry has not just been endorsed be demonstrators, but pro-Beijing lawmakers, foreign governments and others sympathetic to the establishment.
Protesters also argue that government’s refusal to listen to their demands has only propelled their movement, which has seen nine straight weeks of rallies, strikes and sieges. Several people who took part in Monday’s city-wide strike said they decided to do so after Lam’s briefing that day, in which she vowed a firm police response, without signalling any new concessions.