The Occupy Central movement for democracy yesterday gave as good as it got from state media, describing as laughable an editorial that called its unofficial referendum on Hong Kong's electoral reform ludicrous.
Organisers of the ongoing citywide poll dismissed criticism from state-run tabloid Global Times that the voter turnout - 728,601 by midnight last night - was "no match" for the 1.3 billion population in the whole of China.
That view was laughable, and disregarded the "one country, two systems" policy under which Hong Kong operates, Occupy co-organiser Dr Chan Kin-man said.
"If the 1.3 billion people really have a vote, I believe they will support democratic development in Hong Kong to serve as a model of demonstration for the rest of the country," Chan said.
On Sina.com's  microblog service, Weibo, the editorial promptly triggered heated discussion. "Let the 1.3 billion people have a vote and see!" one person wrote, while another lamented: "I'm 47 years old and I have never seen a ballot before."
Occupy's 10-day "referendum" lists three reform plans, all of which allow the public to nominate candidates for the 2017 chief executive election in some form - an idea Beijing rejects. By making the population comparison and calling the exercise an "illegal farce", the Global Times is attempting to discredit the exercise.
The newspaper advises Hong Kong's opposition to "remember how the state defeated the Iron Lady's administration and took back Hong Kong", in a reference to former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher that appeared in the Chinese version of the editorial but not the English one.
"Even if they can deceive more than half of Hongkongers, Beijing will never compromise on sovereignty-related issues," it said. "The simplest reason is that the Basic Law reflects the will of the whole nation as well, and therefore more than 1.3 billion people have the right to speak on Hong Kong's political reform." Political scientist Dixon Sing Ming said he was not surprised by the tabloid's words, given its usual tough stance, but it might not represent Beijing's true view as its comments were sometimes "corrected" by another state-run paper, the People's Daily.
Watch: Hongkongers voice their opinion on the referendum, democracy, and Occupy Central”
Federation of Students secretary general Alex Chow Yong-kang said action to "occupy" a part of the city remained on his group's agenda early next month.
"We do expect the government to respond to the poll results," Chow said. "If it still categorically rules out public nomination or party nomination, we will occupy the streets."
Chan urged restraint, though he asked Occupy voters to join the annual July 1 democracy march to refute claims that their votes were fake.
Chan's Occupy colleague Benny Tai Yiu-ting added: "The spirit of civil disobedience is to exhaust all legal means to protest first.
"We will know the poll results on June 30. We need to give the government a reasonable amount of time to respond."
Meanwhile, in the public poll that started on Friday, 728,601 votes had been cast online and at the 15 polling stations by midnight last night. The exercise will continue until Sunday.
A queue of about 100 voters formed at City University, the only polling station that was open after the weekend. One of them, student Rosanna Tang, 24, said the Global Times editorial "did not make sense" and had provoked her into voting.
Elaine Yu, a clerk in her 50s, said the editorial made her more determined to vote. "Hong Kong is the only Chinese city where people can voice their opinions freely … Everyone should make an effort for the sake of our younger generations."