21 February 2019
CY Leung (inset) has reaffirmed his opposition to the reopening of Civic Square, shown here during the 2012 campaign against national education. Photos: HKEJ, CNSA
CY Leung (inset) has reaffirmed his opposition to the reopening of Civic Square, shown here during the 2012 campaign against national education. Photos: HKEJ, CNSA

Is Civic Square a place of shame for CY Leung?

Outgoing Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is keeping a high profile in his final days as Hong Kong leader, and now he is once again voicing his opposition to the reopening of Civic Square for the remainder of his term, citing security concerns.

This came as several democrats and pro-Beijing loyalists lobbied Chief Executive-elect Carrie Lam to reopen Civic Square to show her openness to the public as well as her willingness to listen to different segments of society.

On Tuesday, Leung said the administration decided against it after a security assessment in light of what he called “local and overseas attacks”.

He said that while the government should make sure people can demonstrate outside government headquarters, it also has to ensure the safety of civil servants who work there and visitors to the building.

Leung also cited past cases of protesters setting a rubbish bin on fire and forcibly pushing glass doors of the adjacent Legislative Council complex.

It seems that Leung is still feeling the pain of the 2014 Occupy Central protests. The east wing forecourt of government headquarters in Admiralty that used to be a popular venue for protests was closed in July 2014.

The Occupy Central campaign started at midnight on Sept. 28, 2014. Several young student activists including Joshua Wong climbed over the barrier and occupied Civic Square overnight until the police arrested them.

The police then used tear gas to disperse the protesters outside Civic Square. The Occupy campaign went on until December that year.

Of course, Leung has a right to refuse to reopen Civic Square but he should respect the incoming leader and let her make the decision, rather than simply reiterating his own reasons for its continued closure.

On  Monday, Lam said she would consider reopening the east wing forecourt of the Central Government Complex.

Lam made the comment in response to renewed calls from the pro-democracy camp urging the government to allow public access to the forecourt.

It is quite interesting that not only the democrats made such a request which is like offering an olive branch to Lam in exchange for future cooperation in the legislature. Pro-Beijing loyalists Michael Tien and Lau Kwok-fan as well as the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions also encouraged Lam to do so.

There should be someone in the pro-Beijing camp to push the idea in order to ease tensions between the public and the government as Hong Kong marks the 20th anniversary of its return to China.

The core issue is not whether the government should reopen Civic Square, but how it treats public opinion.

In the past few weeks, democrat leaders have suggested an amnesty for those involved in the Occupy Campaign. However, the idea was quickly killed.

Many cases related to the Occupy Central campaign are under legal proceedings. It will be difficult for the government to withdraw all the cases at once.

However, the new government led by Lam should show respect to the opposition camp and rebuild normal relations between both sides, with the goal of creating a harmonious community.

In fact, Lam has demonstrated her willingness to improve such ties. That should at least help ease social tensions in the post-Occupy era.

Unfortunately, such efforts have been interrupted by Leung.

In addition, there is still a question on the role of Leung after July 1. Given that he is now a state leader as a deputy chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the nation’s top advisory body, Leung would most likely keep an eye on Lam’s performance and meddle in government affairs.

That said, Hong Kong could still be under Leung’s thumb behind the scenes.

His warning not to reopen Civic Square, as well as his refusal to cancel the Basic Competency Assessments for school children signalled that Leung would like to see his policies alive after he steps down in July.

In order to secure a legitimate rule for Lam, democrats and pro-Beijing forces should support her to reopen Civic Square as a symbolic move ending Leung’s five-year administration.

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EJ Insight writer

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