China won't cede to HK protests, army to be used as last resort

China won't cede to HK protests, army to be used as last resort

BEIJING - China's ruling Communist Party believes it has offered enough concessions to Hong Kong in the past, and will give no ground to pro-democracy protests because it wants to avoid setting a precedent for reform on the mainland, sources told Reuters.

The position, arrived at during a meeting of the new National Security Commission chaired by President Xi Jinping in the first week of October, appears to give Hong Kong's leader little room for manoeuvre as he seeks to end the crisis.

It also sends a blunt and uncompromising message to Hong Kong's pro-democracy camp.

Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of the Chinese-controlled city in recent weeks, demanding that Beijing stand by a promise to introduce universal suffrage at elections for its leader in 2017 and that Leung Chun-ying step down.

The protests, which China says are illegal, have presented leaders with one of their toughest political challenges since the army violently suppressed student-led demonstrations for democracy centred on Beijing's Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.

Central parts of Hong Kong have been brought to a standstill by protests now into their third week, although police have stepped back since using tear gas and pepper spray early on and numbers have dwindled to hundreds from thousands.

Three sources with ties to the Chinese leadership said that Beijing believed it had already been tolerant enough of the protests in the former British colony.

Asked if the central government will make minor concessions, a source with leadership ties said: "Dialogue (with protest leaders) is already a concession." Leung's government agreed to meet student protest leaders to discuss the crisis, but talks were called off when it became apparent the two sides were still far apart.

A second source added: "The central government's bottom line will not change", referring to the vetting of candidates for chief executive.

Beijing ruled on Aug. 31 that it would screen candidates who want to run for chief executive in 2017, which activists said rendered the universal suffrage concept meaningless.

China's Communist Party leaders rule Hong Kong through a"one country, two systems" formula which allows wide-ranging autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland and specifies universal suffrage as an eventual goal.

"Hong Kong is not high on the list of the central government's priorities," the second source said, requesting anonymity.

"The economy is the top priority."

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