20 April 2019
As students have signaled that they could end the street occupation, it is time for the Hong Kong government to show some magnanimity. Photo: Bloomberg
As students have signaled that they could end the street occupation, it is time for the Hong Kong government to show some magnanimity. Photo: Bloomberg

Govt must reach out to students now

With the students softening their rhetoric and even indicating that they could terminate the weeks-long street occupation, will the government make any conciliatory gesture in return?   

This is the thought that is going through the minds of many people right now as the end seems to be near for the 70-day civil disobedience campaign that has caused deep divisions in Hong Kong society.

While nothing is certain yet, observers feel it is time for government officials to show some grace and at least meet the young activists who had been waging a courageous battle for democratic reforms.

A dialogue in which each side listens to the other’s viewpoint patently can help bring a peaceful conclusion to the Occupy campaign and set the stage for healing the wounds in the community. 

The talks should involve all student groups, with the government showing no discrimination.

The mistake of the previous dialogue in October, which saw the Scholarism group being excluded from the debate, should not be repeated.  

It is worth noting that Scholarism founder Joshua Wong and some of his group members have begun a hunger strike in a bid to pressure the government to return to talks on political reform, even as the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS), the other main group behind the Occupy protests, has taken a softer line.

HKFS leaders were involved in the previous discussions with government representatives. The talks, although they failed to resolve the standoff, at least showed that a debate is possible among opposing camps.

A spokeswoman for HKFS admitted Thursday that it may be unrealistic that the Occupy campaign can be sustained, given the intransigence of authorities and the use of force by the police. The student group will make a decision within a week on whether to end the street occupation, she said, voicing publicly for the first time thoughts of a possible retreat.

Local media, meanwhile, cited government sources as saying that the police will assist court bailiffs in implementing a court order for clearing the main protest site in Admiralty district, where hundreds of students had pitched their tents since September 28.

Thousands of police officers are said to be getting ready for the clearance operation. 

The latest reports suggest that both the students and the government are preparing to draw the curtain on the Occupy campaign, at least in its current form.

While the students may be withdrawing without winning any concessions, the government cannot afford to sit back and gloat as the issues raised by the-democracy activists will continue to simmer.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has to bear in mind that he needs to build bridges within society, particularly with the younger generation, and try to soothe the tensions.

For starters, senior officials can visit the protest sites in Admiralty and Causeway Bay in the next few days and give a patient hearing to the young activists on their appeal for a better electoral system in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, Leung should avoid making provocative or disparaging comments about the students, while advising the police not to use violent means to clear the sites.

If Leung makes hostile remarks, it could fuel passions again among the youth and cause a setback in the efforts to restore normalcy to the city.

As a withdrawal of Beijing’s roadmap for the upcoming chief executive election could be difficult, the government can try to convince the students that it will seek a more transparent and fair electoral system beyond 2017.

Authorities should realize that a transparent and fair electoral system will only help enhance the credibility and legitimacy of the chief executive, which could in turn cement Beijing’s control of its special administrative region.

Although the students may have failed in their mission, it is the duty of the local government to convey the truth to Beijing about what is really at stake. 

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EJ Insight writer

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