Date
20 October 2017
Civic Square, a popular protest site during Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's administration, is off-limits to the public. Photo: HKEJ
Civic Square, a popular protest site during Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's administration, is off-limits to the public. Photo: HKEJ

Civic Square and CY’s mental block to opposition

The barricades are going up in “Civic Square” and the shutters coming down on opposition public opinion. The Hong Kong government said it will cordon off the square, a popular protest site outside the Central Government Offices in Tamar, in the interests of building security.

A government spokesman said the complex, which houses the Legislative Council, needs to be protected from any “potential threats” in light of the recent violent protests at the Legco building. Some activists said the barrier is to stop the Occupy Central campaign affecting government operations.

The act may be justified on security grounds but it is a reflection of the administration’s unwillingness to listen to opposing views. By creating such a literal block to public opinion, it is clear that the government is looking for any excuse to avoid having hundreds of thousands people demonstrating outside its windows.

But the decision runs counter to the architect’s concept for the building when the blueprints for the complex were inked.

The complex’s four themes are “Openness, Enjoyment, Sustainability and Togetherness”. These are manifestation in the “Open Door” and “Green Carpet” concepts that create a wide breezeway and an extensive visual corridor. The principles are designed to extend to the workings of the buildings themselves, with the cabinet expected to have an open door to the needs of the people.

Leung Chun-ying made a pledge along those lines when he promised in 2012 to have “a chair and a notebook” at the ready to listen to the public on government policy. Instead, he and his teams are selectively listening to pro-establishment views and screening out the people demonstrating outside the administration’s headquarters.

Since Leung assumed the helm in 2012, the square, also known as Civic Plaza, has become a rallying point for all kinds of campaigns against controversial government policies. One of the most successful was the pushback against the brainwashing national education curriculum in schools in the summer of 2012. Led by student group Scholarism and the Parents Concern Group, more than 100,000 Hong Kong people gathered in the plaza and surrounding roads for 10 days to oppose the subject. The government finally withdrew the curriculum and let the schools decide whether to teach the subject.

Thousands of people have also occupied the plaza to oppose the forced closure of Albert Cheng-controlled Digital Broadcasting Corp., and the government’s rejection of a TV license application by Ricky Wong’s Hong Kong Television Network.

All of these events embarrassed the Leung administration and his team, showing public discontent with Leung’s cabinet. 

This is not the first time the government has built barriers outside their offices. In 1997, then chief executive Tung Chee-hwa ordered barricades erected outside the former government headquarters in Central. That too was widely seen as a sign of the government’s lack of respect for public opinion.

Both instances are in contrast to scenes of elderly people doing their morning exercises outside the old Central Government Offices under British rule. Back then the government was more open to the public. But now their offices are no longer a place for the people.

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SC/JP/SK

EJ Insight writer

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