TIME fun

Feel Good Friday: 15 Fun Photos to Start Your Weekend

From flying off mountains to backflipping in Palestine, here's a handful of photos to get your weekend started right

TIME Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s Protesters Feel Betrayed by Their Own Government

Students Continue To Protest In Hong Kong Following Negotiation Talks
A pro-democracy protester displays his T-shirt on a street in Mongkok district on October 22, 2014 in Hong Kong. Kong Ng—Getty Images

The only solution to the monthlong protest, they insist, is for the local government to fight for Hong Kong's rights instead of always capitulating to China

Hong Kong and China are “one country” with “two systems.” Yet these days, pro-democracy protesters say, the emphasis is patently on “one country.”

Just shy of one month into the protests paralyzing key traffic arteries in Hong Kong, democracy supporters here are outraged over what they say is the local government’s failure to meet even low expectations for interceding on their behalf to Beijing.

“Under normal circumstances, the government should argue the people’s case in Beijing and help Hong Kong to secure universal suffrage,” says Emily Lau, chair of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party.

“But it has done the reverse,” she says, “by urging Hong Kong people to accept the unacceptable.”

Indeed, supporters of the protests point to concrete steps Hong Kong’s top leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, could take — but hasn’t — to get Beijing to end the deadlock. That Leung hasn’t approached Beijing for reforms, but has instead encouraged protesters to back down, illustrates to demonstrators one of the chief reasons for their ongoing sit-ins: if Beijing gets to vet candidates for Hong Kong’s top leader, as it plans to do in 2017, this city is bound to get another local government unwilling to defend “two systems.”

“We are supposed to have autonomy,” said 30-year-old civil servant Cheong Kung on Thursday night, as he leaned back on his hands in the main protest area of Harcourt Road (recently dubbed Umbrella Square by protesters after the movement’s symbol). “Supposed to have it,” he added with wry emphasis. “Supposed.”

“This is why we are here,” said his friend Yai Pon, 30, a travel writer. “If we don’t get universal suffrage, we will never really have autonomy.”

Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, called the Basic Law, promises the territory “a high degree of autonomy” from China, to which it was returned in 1997 after 156 years of British rule. But protesters say the Hong Kong government has let Beijing chisel at that autonomy for years — most recently by not challenging the Aug. 31 decision by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), in Beijing, on electoral reforms in Hong Kong.

The NPC’s decision says Beijing will sieve candidates for Hong Kong’s top leader through a 1,200-member committee widely seen as stacked with Beijing loyalists. To get on the ballot, candidates must win at least half the committee’s votes. Protesters see this process as a violation of the Basic Law’s promise that Hong Kong people can elect the chief executive by “universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.” They say it is undemocratic to put someone in Hong Kong’s top seat who, by virtue of the manner in which they were elected, has already let the whittling of local autonomy to continue.

“The concept of autonomy assumes that is in in the interest of the autonomous government is to defend its autonomy,” says Michael Davis, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong.

“But there is a feeling that what we have in Hong Kong is a government that represents Beijing’s interests and is delinquent in representing Hong Kong’s interests to Beijing,” says Davis. “I think that’s at the heart of all this.”

Since Sept. 28, protesters, who on at least one night numbered 10,000, have stood, sat and slept in the streets to lobby Beijing to revisit the Aug. 31 decision. In recent days, Umbrella Square has acquired a sense of semi-permanence, turning into a village of tents arranged in tidy rows under the perennial neon twinkle of the city’s skyscrapers.

Not everyone in Hong Kong agrees with the protests. Many residents are anguished over the disruption the protests are presenting to local commerce, especially retailers in the protest areas, and to taxi and truck drivers affected by the traffic diversions and gridlocks the sit-ins have wrought. A sizable portion of the population — mostly working class and elderly — is also pro-Beijing and view the democracy movement as a threat to their livelihoods.

Yet the most recent public-opinion poll from the Chinese University of Hong Kong shows that support for the protests for the first time exceeds opposition to them. The results of the poll, conducted between Oct. 8 and 15, indicate that 37.8% of respondents support what’s been dubbed the Umbrella Movement, while 35.5% oppose it.

In September, before the protests kicked off, 46.3% of public opposed activists’ plans to occupy the streets, and 31.3% said they favored such plans.

Protesters say that demonstrable support here for electoral reform obligates the Hong Kong government to communicate such support to Beijing and ask that the demands be addressed. They point in particular to a line in the Basic Law that says the election method “shall be specified in the light of the actual situation” in Hong Kong.

“The actual situation right now is very different than it was on Aug. 31,” says Surya Deva, a professor of law at the City University of Hong Kong. “The chief executive should submit a report to the NPC on the new situation. He should convey that there should be a pathway for a democratic candidate to stand for election.”

“There is no legal issue here,” says Deva. “The chief executive is legally allowed to ask the NPC to reconsider, and the NPC is constitutionally allowed to change, or even void, its decision.”

In a televised meeting between students and government officials this week, students urged the officials to “have courage” and bring protesters’ demands to Beijing.

The Hong Kong government “has the constitutional duty to fight for a democratic reform proposal for Hong Kong,” said Yvonne Leung, a delegate for the Hong Kong Student Federation.

Yet Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s No. 2 official, said the government was prepared to send a new report just to the relatively lowly Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, not to the NPC. Students pressed Lam for an explanation of what could come of sending a report to the office, which was uninvolved in the Aug. 31 decision, but received no answer.

Neither the students nor the government has announced plans for a second round of talks. On Friday activists said they will poll protesters on the government’s offer to write to the council, while on Thursday the government said it would stage an exhibition on the Basic Law, so that “members of the public may also gain a better understanding” of it. The government has repeatedly insisted that the NPC decision is consistent with Hong Kong’s laws.

Hilary Lee, 20, a manager at a local school who was staffing a supplies station near the outskirts of the protests in Admiralty district on Thursday night, said she would be willing “to go step by step” toward a more democratic government, but did not see the government taking any steps.

“I’m waiting here until C.Y. Leung apologizes and until he does something that would make me feel like, O.K., change is coming,” she says, referring to Leung by his initials, as he is commonly known. “But the government is not doing anything.”

Mark Cheung, 28, a videographer who has lived in Umbrella Square for almost a month, said he is not optimistic that the government’s do-nothing zeitgeist will change: “The Hong Kong government has not fought for the right of Hong Kong people to have fair elections. And I’m pretty sure they’re not going to do anything different now.”

“They could,” he says, “but they won’t.”

TIME China

China Successfully Launches Unmanned Moon Mission

The mission, part of Beijing's program to eventually land a man on the moon, will take eight days

A Chinese spacecraft was successfully launched on a round trip to the moon on Friday.

The unmanned space vehicle, part of the country’s eventual goal to land a man on the moon, will complete an orbit of the planetary body before re-entering earth’s atmosphere and landing, according to a statement released by the Chinese State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense. The flight is set to land at a base in the central region of Inner Mongolia eight days from its launch.

China already has an unmanned rover on the lunar surface called Jade Rabbit, which was dispatched on a one-way mission, and also has plans to set up a permanently orbiting space station by 2020, according to AFP.

TIME

It’s a Long Way to the Top (if You Wanna Be a Uighur Pop Star)

Heartthrob Ablajan embodies the tension between pop and politics in China's Xinjiang region

Sangzhu is not the sort of place you’d expect to find a pop star. An oasis town of some 30,000 people off the old Silk Road in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region, Sangzhu is home to ethnic Uighur farmers, mosques and a bazaar. Women move quietly through courtyards, pulling their kerchiefs tight against the wind from the Taklamakan Desert. Bearded men lead donkeys down the road.

Then a bus rattles around the corner, shaking sleepy Sangzhu to life. From the backseats of the rusty clunker comes the kind of feral scream that can only be produced by wild packs of teenage girls. They pound the windows and wave their hands with celebrity-stricken abandon, jostling for a better view. “Ablajan!” they yell as they roll by. “Ab-laaa-jaaan!”

Standing street-side in a studded leather jacket and shades, glancing down at his iPhone, is the object of their frenzy: Uighur pop star, and hometown hero, Ablajan Awut Ayup. He looks up at them, smiles a little sheepishly, and touches his hand to his heart. Then he turns to me and pops his collar with all the mock swagger he can muster. “The ladies,” he says in English, “they like my style.”

Ablajan, 30, is one of the hottest singers in China’s vast northwest. His catchy songs fuse the rhythms of Central Asia with the stylings of global pop—a sort of Sufi poetry-meets-Justin-Bieber vibe. On stage, he channels the theatricality of his childhood idol, Michael Jackson, and the tight choreography of K-pop. His first album, Shall We Start?, sold more than 100,000 copies, no small achievement in a limited market. Local businesses vie to endorse Ablajan, and his face graces billboards in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi.

For Uighur youth growing up amid marginalization and strife, Ablajan’s story is the stuff of legend. Born and raised in a mud-brick courtyard in one of China’s poorest and most isolated counties, unable to speak Chinese or English until his teens, and lacking training and connections in the music industry, Ablajan somehow made it. To his fans, he symbolizes the possibility of a life that is at once modern, successful and Uighur. He often gives free shows and, during performances, tells kids to study hard and get a good job. “The message is that this is the 21st century,” says Ablajan. “We cannot make a living buying and selling sheep.”

Now Ablajan wants to take his music east to the Chinese heartland. He sees his story as proof that there is more to Xinjiang than what you read in the news. He is right, of course, but Xinjiang is a region on edge, and conflict has a way of creeping in. When my Chinese colleague Gu Yongqiang and I returned to our hotel after visiting Ablajan’s childhood stomping grounds, the police were at the door. They thanked us for coming and asked us to be on our way. Said one cop: “It’s a sensitive time.”

China’s Outsiders

Unlike the country’s majority Han Chinese, Uighurs are of Turkic origin and mostly Muslim. As with Tibet, Xinjiang is historically a contested space, held by a series of Turkic, Mongol and Han empires, including the 18th century Qing Dynasty, which gave the region its current name, meaning “New Frontier.” In the 1930s, Uighur leaders in the ancient Silk Road entrepôt of Kashgar declared the first of two short-lived East Turkestan Republics.

When the People’s Republic of China (PRC) came into being, its troops marched into Xinjiang, followed by waves of military personnel and migrants to settle a territory three times the size of France. In 1949, the year the PRC was founded, Han Chinese accounted for roughly 6% of Xinjiang’s population; today the figure is about 45%. Uighurs say they are outsiders in their own land. While Beijing has brought development to Xinjiang, most of the new wealth is concentrated in Han hands. Many Uighurs want greater autonomy, some call for independence.

The ruling Chinese Communist Party views those demands as an existential threat. In recent years, any unrest has been met with ever escalating force by Beijing. In 2009, protests in Urumqi degenerated into clashes that claimed nearly 200 lives, both Han and Uighur. The authorities responded by detaining Uighurs and cutting off the Internet for nine months. They have since further curbed the teaching of the Uighur language in schools, banned under-18s from praying in mosques, and stopped civil servants and students from fasting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. On Sept. 23, Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti, a moderate activist, was sentenced to life imprisonment for “separatism,” a charge many say was trumped up and a verdict many condemn as excessively harsh.

Such government action has radicalized some Uighurs. In October last year, a vehicle carrying three members of a Uighur family crashed through crowds of sightseers in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, killing five, including the passengers. Some months later, eight knife-wielding assailants—whom the authorities called “Xinjiang separatists”—slaughtered 29 civilians at a railway station in Kunming, capital of southwestern Yunnan province. Two subsequent attacks by extremists in Urumqi killed dozens more and sparked what Beijing calls an anti-terror campaign that has resulted in mass trials, convictions and executions. On Sept. 22, state media said that blasts in Luntai County, which is about a day’s drive from Urumqi, killed at least two people and injured several others.

Security personnel in riot gear now blanket Xinjiang’s major cities, and towns like Sangzhu are increasingly sealed off by police checkpoints. Chinese security posters feature racist caricatures of Uighurs: scowling, bearded men with big hooked noses—reinforcing the perception many Han have of Uighurs as backward, dissolute and violent. It’s against this backdrop of suspicion and prejudice that Ablajan—and other young Uighurs—try to climb the economic ladder.

Rhythm and Blues

When we landed in Urumqi, two members of Ablajan’s crew, the improbably named Frank and Caesar, met us at the airport and led us to a black SUV. As Frank steered the beast through rush hour traffic, Caesar talked, in rapid-fire Uighur, English and Chinese, about competing as breakdancer in southern China, and lamented that the central government blocks sites like YouTube where you can listen to rap artists like his personal favorite, Notorious B.I.G., “may he rest in peace.”

Most of Ablajan’s dancers and aides are, like him, Uighur kids from the countryside who dreamed of making it big. They live between worlds, learning Chinese to survive, and English as a cultural lubricant, while still clinging to a language and tradition of their own.

Ablajan attended Uighur-language school and spent his evenings toiling beside his father in the fields, singing folk songs to pass the time. He looks back fondly on his youth. “Xinjiang used to be peaceful,” he says. “Then we lost the peace.”

At 14, Ablajan caught a glimpse of Michael Jackson on TV and, for the first time, imagined a life outside Sangzhu. “When I saw him, I was like, Oh my God,” he says. He started practicing the moonwalk and writing songs, and at 19 made the 32-hour bus journey to Urumqi to study dance.

The next six years were a struggle to make it as a musician, and a struggle with the reality of being poor and Uighur in an increasingly expensive, segregated city. He worked as a wedding singer and practiced English and Chinese. Eventually, he was befriended by another young Uighur musician who gave him a computer, his first, and a workspace in his studio. He spent his days writing music and his nights working Urumqi’s restaurant and wedding circuit.

One of his breakthrough hits, “Is There Space to Play?,” turns rural-urban migration into a metaphor for coming of age, according to Darren Byler, an anthropologist at the University of Washington who studies and translates Uighur music. The song opens with the sights and sounds of Xinjiang childhood: the call to prayer, distant mountains, a bleating goat. By midway, we’re in China’s pressure-cooker schools, where the bags of books are heavy. It ends in the city—skyscrapers and cars are everywhere. Where are the stars at night? Is there space to play?

Hot Ticket

Ablajan is a big star in a small place. When he walks down the street, there’s an endless stream of people waiting to shake hands. At a Chinese Muslim restaurant in Urumqi, two cooks rush out of the kitchen, aprons and, gloves still on, to wish him well: “Peace be upon you,” they say, using the pan-Islamic greeting. In the town of Hotan, a teenage taxi driver refuses to let him pay. “Just write some more love songs,” he says.

With success and celebrity comes perks that young Ablajan might not have imagined. He has enough to live on his own and to send money and gifts to his family. When he visits his hometown he takes a flight, not the grueling overnight bus. And Uighur girls from as far away as Europe and the U.S. send him messages on Instagram, his social network of choice. “So many beautiful ladies,” he says.

But Ablajan also faces obstacles. Many of his fans do not have the money to buy tickets for his shows, and organizing a concert requires multiple layers of state approval. There are technical issues too. For a late spring performance at a college in Urumqi, his team set up a stage on a basketball court and students carried in wooden chairs to form an ad-hoc auditorium. Police lined the perimeter to watch the crowd. When the music started — two hours late because of technical problems — Ablajan was electric. But the guy manning the spotlight from a Toyota pickup mid-court could not quite keep him illuminated.

After the show, the performers gathered in the school stairwell that served as their dressing room. The dancers greeted friends and basked in the post-show glow, but Ablajan held back, despondent about the delays and glitches. He worries about letting people down, he says, and feels the pressure of being a role model to an entire generation of Uighur kids. “I’m only a bad boy on stage,” he said.

When we met the next morning to catch a flight south, he looked beat. I had bought tickets for 8:00 a.m. not realizing that half the region ignores government-mandated “Beijing time” in favor of “Xinjiang time,” which is two hours earlier. It was actually 5:00 o’clock in the morning and Ablajan had been up all night, replaying the performance in his head. But by time we got to the airport, he was himself again, greeting fans and cracking jokes.

As we boarded the plane, Ablajan was humming the tune to a 2013 hit by Toronto-born rapper Drake: Started from the bottom and now we here / Started from the bottom now the whole team here.

The Politics of Music

Ablajan rarely talks politics, wary, no doubt, of jeopardizing his career. But on July 31, violent clashes erupted in a village outside Kashgar, leaving at least 100 dead, according to state media reports. (The cause of the violence and the death toll are still disputed.) When the authorities then canceled a long-planned concert in Urumqi, Ablajan could no longer hold back. His team spent nearly a month, and a whole lot of money, preparing for what was to be a display of ethnic unity performed in front of officials and broadcast to audiences. Police shut it down less than an hour from showtime. Ablajan posted a picture of himself on Instagram, with a caption that read like a cri de coeur: “My name is Ablajan! I am not a terrorist.”

Late last year, Ablajan released his first Chinese-language music video, “Today,” an MJ-inspired epic featuring a car chase and shots of his entourage dancing on rooftops and roads in Urumqi and Kashgar. The goal was to generate some excitement online for the Mandarin single, his first, giving him a foothold in the bigger, more lucrative Chinese-language market. His manager, Rui Wenbin—a Han Chinese born and raised in Urumqi and formerly of Xinjiang’s culture ministry—believes Ablajan’s music can help bridge the divide between the Uighur and Han worlds. Says Rui: “He can be a messenger of peace.”

It won’t be easy. On my last night in Xinjiang, Ablajan and I walk to a public square near the local government office. It’s a warm evening and many people are out, walking arm-in-arm or pushing strollers. On one side, a group of elderly Han women practices a synchronized dance. Nearby, clusters of young Uighurs listen to music. Before the clock strikes nine, however, the cops come out in golf-cart-size squad cars, sirens blaring. Everyone has to go home.

As we walk back, Ablajan talks about going to Kazakhstan in the fall. If he can scrape up the money, he’d love to see Beijing someday too. “I need proper equipment, a choreographer, costumes, but …” He pauses and searches for the right expression. “Mei banfa,” he says in Mandarin: No solution. “I mean, this is Xinjiang, man.”

— With reporting by Gu Yongqiang / Sangzhu

TIME Hong Kong

Kenny G Assures China That He Has No Opinion on the Hong Kong Protests

Kenny G
Saxophonist Kenny G performs during a media event in Taipei on May 14, 2010 Chiang Ying-ying—AP

"I love China,” he clarifies

Kenny G is not happy that China is not happy with him.

The American titan of soft jazz, whose elevator-friendly tunes are wildly popular in China, on Thursday clarified that he “loves China” and that his recent visit to the protests in Hong Kong was in no way a gesture of support for the demonstrators.

Kenny G’s much photographed walkabout at the main pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong on Wednesday led the Chinese Foreign Ministry to reiterate its line that foreigners — saxophonists included — should tread “cautiously and not support Occupy Central and other illegal activities in any form.”

The superstar saxophonist was only too happy to clarify his stance.

“I am not supporting the demonstrators as I don’t really know anything about the situation and my impromptu visit to the site was just part of an innocent walk around Hong Kong,” he wrote in a Facebook post and on Twitter, clarifying that he had dropped by the protests “as a tourist” en route to a concert at a golf resort near the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen.

“I love Hong Kong and always come here to perform when I’m asked to. I love China and love coming here to perform for over 25 years,” he emphasized. “I only wanted to share my wish for Peace for Hong Kong and for all of China as I feel close to and care about China very much.”

Hong Kong’s demonstrators are waging the greatest challenge to the Chinese government in decades, refusing to quit the financial hub’s streets until Beijing grants the city true democracy.

Kenny G appeared on Thursday to have deleted a photo from his Twitter account in which he posed in front of a banner at the main protest encampment in Hong Kong’s Admiralty district. It had been captioned: “In Hong Kong at the sight [sic] of the demonstration. I wish everyone a peaceful and positive conclusion to this situation.”

“I was not trying to defy government orders with my last post,” he said later, of the tweet. His most recent nonprotest related tweet is about dim sum.

Kenny G, whose real name is Kenny Gorelick, is extraordinarily popular in China. One of his songs, “Going Home,” floods Chinese malls and events at closing time to gently suggest that guests should head for the exits. Conspiracy theorists had wondered if the appearance of the “Going Home” artist himself at the occupied streets might be a not-so-subtle message to the protesters from Beijing.

Big celebrities who rely on the Chinese government’s goodwill to reach China’s colossal entertainment market have toed an uneasy line in calibrating their public opinion on the Hong Kong protesters. Jackie Chan, the Hong Kong action-film darling and pious Chinese government supporter, has publicly chastised the demonstrators for wounding Hong Kong’s financial prospects with the continued sit-ins in major traffic arteries (he also appears to make a cameo in a recent Kenny G tweet).

Yet in seeking to placate the Chinese government’s unhappiness, Kenny G conjured up a lot more unhappiness, as Facebook commentators were not too pleased to hear that the top-selling artist “loves China” and doesn’t “really know anything about the situation.”

“I would suggest before you start declaring your love for China you get yourself informed,” wrote one netizen, under the Facebook apology. “It’s not a hard situation to figure out!”

“Who wants to stand up for democracy in Hong Kong when there’s so much money to be made under the state-managed authoritarian capitalist system in mainland China?” continued someone else.

“Sounds like someone’s scared of the Chinese govt.,” wrote one commentator.

“Thanks for nothing,” concluded another.

Others, though, encouraged the musician to “not allow the negativity to bring you down!” and said they still loved his music.

Beijing has been accusing foreign governments of covertly inciting the demonstrations and has sternly told foreign leaders expressing support for the protesters to mind their own business.

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has repeated Beijing’s line and alleged that “foreign influence” is involved in the demonstrations, but has declined to name such influence until the “appropriate time.” He has never mentioned smooth jazz as a possible culprit.

TIME Hong Kong

Kenny G Went to the Hong Kong Protests and Beijing Is Not Happy

American Musician Kenny G Performs In Hong Kong
American musician Kenny G performs on stage during his concert at Hong Kong International Trade and Exhibition Centre on May 17, 2011 in Hong Kong. ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images

The famous saxophonist's visit prompted officials to reiterate their calls for foreigners to keep out of China's affairs

Kenny G is striking all the wrong notes in Hong Kong, the Chinese government says.

The Chinese foreign ministry has hinted that Kenny G, the American juggernaut of smooth jazz, might well be among the so-called “foreign influences” meddling in China’s affairs, after the top-selling saxophonist turned up at the main democracy protest site in Hong Kong’s Admiralty district, Reuters reports.

The city has been beset by protests for three weeks, with demonstrators furious over the tight restrictions China has put on local elections.

In photos making the rounds on social media, the curly-haired saxophonist is also seen making the peace sign at the barricades with patently delighted protesters.

But the tweet was apparently seen by Chinese officials not as a simple update on the musician’s whereabouts, but as an expression of support for Hong Kong’s protesters, who Beijing has resoundingly condemned.

“Kenny G’s musical works are widely popular in China, but China’s position on the illegal Occupy Central activities in Hong Kong is very clear,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing in Beijing.

“We hope that foreign governments and individuals speak and act cautiously and not support Occupy Central and other illegal activities in any form,” she said.

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Leung Chun-ying, has alleged that “foreign influence” is involved in the massive challenge to his government that the protests pose, but has declined to name such influence until the “appropriate time.” He has never mentioned saxophonists as possible meddlers.

Interestingly, one of the artist’s songs, “Going Home,” is universally used in China at malls and events to gently let people know that it’s closing time and that they have to leave. Conspiracy theorists might see a hidden message for the protesters here.

TIME Hong Kong

TV Face-Off Dramatizes Gulf Between Hong Kong Protesters and Officials

In perhaps the first TV debate of its kind on Chinese soil, young trumps old

Huge numbers of Hong Kong people were transfixed by their televisions and devices Tuesday night local time, as they followed the live broadcast of a historic, two-hour meeting between black-clad rebel students and suited officials.

More than any other event in the three weeks of pro-democracy protests that have rocked China’s most international city, the dialog—the government hesitated to call it a negotiation—dramatized the gulf between the generations. It was also a microcosm of the political tension at work within all of China, between a rising, educated generation groping after its political rights, and an older one insistent on withholding them.

On screens and live audio streams, five representatives from the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) represented the sort of young people any nation would be proud to call its own: intelligent, informed and impassioned.

In talks with them were five senior government officials. Two officials remained mute throughout the 120 minutes and were widely mocked on social media for their silence. The others—headed by the government’s number two Carrie Lam—spoke mostly to utter legal sophistries and to tell the students what they have been saying for months: give up your fight and do as Beijing asks, because the decisions that have been made about Hong Kong’s political future cannot be changed.

To the thousands that had gathered at protest sites across the city to watch the talks on big screens, the government looked hopelessly out of touch. While the students addressed the officials formally, the officials called the students by their first names—in a move that Lam defended as friendliness, but which the Twitterverse found highly condescending.

It also didn’t help that the officials were speaking the day after Hong Kong’s patrician leader, Leung Chun-ying, made an appalling gaffe in front of foreign media, when he said that free elections in Hong Kong would allow those from lower-income groups to dominate the polls. (He later released a statement attempting to qualify his comments as springing from concern for social minorities, which probably made things worse.)

The central government says that it will allow Hong Kong’s 3.5 million voters to elect Leung’s successor in 2017 but insists that voters choose from a field of no more than three candidates, all screened by a pro-establishment committee. To the students, this is a nonstarter and it is the reason that thousands of them and their supporters have been occupying key areas of downtown Hong Kong for the past 24 days. Their protest has seen dozens injured, perhaps hundreds, in clashes with police and shady groups of thugs, and has become the most politically consequential movement on Chinese soil since the 1989 occupation of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

“What do we want?” asked HKFS deputy Lester Shum during the talks. “The right to vote; the right to be voted and voter, equally. Now the government is only telling us to pack up and go home.”

The officials, visibly uncomfortable at being brought to the table by a group of articulate twenty-somethings fresh from the barricades, offered modest concessions—more time to work out nomination procedures, more time to take soundings on Hong Kong’s long term constitutional development. Perhaps the submission of another report to Beijing.

“The 2017 [election] is not the destination,” said Chief Secretary Lam in conciliatory fashion. “We can still improve the system for [the next election in] 2022. If all the public opinion being expressed can be recorded and reflected to the central government, it will be good for democratic development.”

But it sounded like the administration was buying time and they were called on it at several points. “It is the Hong Kong government who is giving up its responsibility,” said HKFS delegate Yvonne Leung. “It has the constitutional duty to fight for a democratic reform proposal for Hong Kong.”

Large numbers of police officers were deployed on the streets in case trouble flared following the debate. But while the rest of the night appeared to pass peacefully, there is a fear that greater unrest in the coming weeks is all but a certainty, now that the chasm between the protesters’ position and the government’s is so woefully apparent. Lam’s concluding remarks bore the faint augury of difficulties ahead.

“I hope you have the courage and wisdom to think of a way out of the current situation,” she said, sounding unintentionally ominous. “I hope you share the responsibility with us.”

Out on the street, Ivan Tsang, 23, an office assistant, spoke for many when he urged protesters to ramp up their campaign. “Overall [the students] represented me and I respect that,” he said. “But I believe we need to make our actions more aggressive so the government will listen.”

Nick Lee, 24, a cook living in the blue-collar district of Mong Kok, where some of the worst clashes have taken place, said: “[Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying] thinks he cannot give more power to the people, but I should have the power, not him.”

Michael Davis, professor of law at Hong Kong University, said that the government had given the protesters no reason to leave the streets. “The government doesn’t seem committed to do anything,” he said. “They only hinted they might file this supplementary report.”

What is certain is that the students came out best from the talks, shoring up their popularity before a large television audience that doubtless, until tonight, contained many undecided viewers.

“I don’t know what the next plan is” said Dora Ngan, 19, who watched the debate on a large screen at the teeming Causeway Bay shopping district. “But I will follow the student leaders.”

—With reporting by Elizabeth Barber, Charlie Campbell, Rishi Iyengar, Per Liljas and David Stout. Video by Helen Regan / Hong Kong

TIME China

Anyone Expecting a Rebound in Chinese Growth Won’t Like the New GDP Figures

Construction sites and vacant streets in Xiangluo Bay.
Construction sites and vacant streets in Tianjin, China. The new central business district, under construction in Tianjin, was touted as another Manhattan, but is now a ghost city. The nation's slowing economy is putting the project into jeopardy Zhang Peng—LightRocket/Getty Images

Say hello to China’s new normal

Those who remain hopeful about the future of the Chinese economy got some extra evidence to bolster their case today. On Tuesday, the government announced that GDP in the third quarter rose by a slightly better-than-expected 7.3%.

But don’t get too excited. That 7.3% is the slowest quarterly pace in five years — since the depths of the recession after the 2008 Wall Street financial crisis. And it was pushed higher likely by exports. In other words, external demand, not investment or consumption in the domestic economy.

There is really nothing surprising about these figures. This is China’s new normal. The double-digit pace the global business community has come to expect is very likely a thing of the past. More and more economists are predicting that China’s growth rates will continue to slow over time. The International Monetary Fund, for instance, sees growth dropping from 7.4% this year to 6.8% in 2016 and 6.3% in 2019.

There are too many factors at work slowing down the Chinese growth machine. First of all, no economy can grow 10% a year forever, not even China’s. The country is no longer the impoverished backwater it was in the early 1980s, when Beijing’s market reforms first sparked its growth miracle. It is now the second largest economy in the world, and the bigger China gets, the harder it becomes to post such large annual GDP increases. There are also structural forces at work. China’s population of more than 1.3 billion is aging rapidly, thanks in part to Beijing’s restrictive one-child policy, and that will act as a long-term drag on growth. The workforce is already shrinking.

The only question is: How slow will China go? The answer depends on how optimistic you are that China’s current leaders can fix the very serious problems plaguing the economy.

Aspects of the growth model that have driven China’s exceptional performance — state-directed investment, easy credit — have now come to spawn all sorts of new risks. Debt levels at Chinese companies have risen precipitously, money has been wasted on excess capacity and unnecessary construction, and bad loans at Chinese banks have been rising as a result. The economy is paying the price.

A big reason behind the country’s slowdown today is the deteriorating property market, brought low by irrational exuberance and excessive building. Official data shows that the amount of unsold real estate has doubled over the past two years, and that has caused prices to fall and investment in new developments to dry up. The central bank recently loosened restrictions on mortgage lending to boost sluggish demand, but most economists don’t expect such moves will stimulate a rebound anytime soon. There are even concerns that China is following a pattern similar to Japan’s when the latter Asian giant had its financial crisis in the early 1990s.

The long-term solution to these problems requires nothing less than overhauling the way in which the economy works. The country’s leaders realize this, too, and have pledged to undertake a thorough reshaping of the economy to give the private sector more influence. Policymakers intend to make the economy more market-oriented by liberalizing finance and capital flows and withdrawing the control of the state. Such steps would probably lead to enhanced productivity, better allocation of finance and stronger innovation — all things China needs badly as its costs rise with its wealth.

So far, though, there has been little progress. A free-trade zone in Shanghai, launched a year ago to experiment with freer capital flows in and out of the country, has never got off the ground. A series of investigations into the business practices of multinationals operating in China has raised questions about Beijing’s willingness to open up the economy further to foreign competition.

Of course, the liberalization Beijing has promised will take a long time to implement. But if the effort doesn’t progress, growth will likely suffer. The Conference Board in a recent report predicted that growth would slow to 4% a year after 2020, in part because its economists believe China’s leaders won’t go far enough in reforming the economy.

What this all means for businessmen and investors around the world is that China may not play the same role in upholding global growth in coming years as it has in the past. The new normal may not lift the gloomy spirits dominating global markets these days, either. But we’ll all have to get used to it.

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