With protests in Hong Kong dwindling and the leaders of the Occupy Movement turning themselves in to police, the United States has repeated its backing for the goal of universal suffrage in the Chinese territory.
Speaking Wednesday before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel said the people of Hong Kong should have a meaningful choice.
"The legitimacy of Hong Kong's chief executive will be greatly enhanced by universal suffrage. By an election that provides the people of Hong Kong a meaningful choice of candidates representative of voter's will," he said. "This means allowing for a competitive election in which a range of candidates with differing policy approaches are given an opportunity to seek the support of eligible Hong Kong voters."
He rejected criticism in China's state-run media that the Hong Kong protests are being orchestrated by the United States and other Western countries.
"The United States is not in any way involved in the protests. In fact, it is disingenuous to suggest this debate is driven by outsiders when it is so clearly about Hong Kongers hopes for their own future," said Russel.
Four protest leaders, from right, Benny Tai Yiu-ting, Chan Kin-man, Chu Yiu-ming and former Cardinal Joseph Zen, walk inside the police station in Hong Kong as they surrender to police, Dec. 3, 2014.
The founders of Hong Kong's Occupy Central movement turned themselves in at the Central Police Station for their role in organizing pro-democracy protests authorities call illegal. After filling out a form to confess what crime they had committed, Benny Tai, Chan Kin-man, and Chu Yiu-ming were sent away when police refused to arrest or charge them.
After turning himself in to the police, Democratic Party Vice Chairman Richard Tsoi Yiu-Cheong told VOA he was at peace for assuming responsibility for the civil disobedience. He added he would shift his focus to community democracy and keep pursuing universal suffrage.
“After 60 days of the Occupy Movement, all friends participating in it, including those who are still in occupation areas, should consider how we can carry on this movement in the long run, how we can get more support from the public and whether we should transform the movement so as to gain more support,” he said.
Authorities have not commented on the surrender, which is seen as an attempt to rejuvenate a movement that has begun to lose public support.
The Occupy founders on Tuesday called for demonstrators to retreat, citing fears of further violence following clashes with police on Sunday. So far, student led protesters have rejected those calls.
One prominent student leader, Joshua Wong, is taking a different approach. The 18-year-old has not eaten since late Monday, hoping this will convince authorities to restart talks on political reforms.
Protest leaders and Hong Kong authorities have held one round of dialogue, but it resulted in little progress after both sides stood firm and repeated their talking points.
The demonstrations began in late September, after Beijing announced it will screen candidates who want to run for chief executive in the semiautonomous Chinese territory's 2017 elections.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Mandarin service)