Chief Executive Carrie Lam has been considering the reopening of Civic Square to show her administration’s willingness to engage the public and differentiate herself from her predecessor Leung Chun-ying.
But after the decision by the Court of Appeal to jail several young activists for their roles in anti-government protests, Lam’s idea has turned into something that reflects the government’s insincerity to genuinely listen to the public.
On Tuesday, Acting Chief Executive Matthew Cheung said the government is working out details of allowing public access to Civic Square, a protest area closed off by the Leung administration. But Cheung did not confirm or deny a report that public access to the square will be limited unlike in previous times when the area was open 24 hours.
Local media reported that the government would make an announcement before Lam’s first policy address in October. It said the government will open the east wing forecourt of government headquarters around the clock but the barriers around the square will stay, citing management concerns. Cheung said the administration would make the announcement as soon as the arrangements are ready.
In fact, Civic Square has been a symbol of Hong Kong’s democratic movement. It witnessed the anti-national education campaign led by Joshua Wong in 2012, the protests against the government’s decision not to grant a free TV license to Ricky Wong’s HKTV, as well as the Occupy Central movement in late 2014.
Leung’s decision to put up the barriers was interpreted as a move by the government to silence protesters and refuse to listen to opposition voices.
Lam’s intention to reopen Civic Square used to be a good idea. It was meant to narrow the social rift.
Lam has a responsibility to listen to the new generation to help build a better future for them and not to stop them from voicing out their concerns.
However, the decision by the government to seek harsher sentences for young activists involved in the Occupy Central protests and mass action against a development plan for the northeast New Territories showed Lam’s administration was following Beijing’s political direction.
It shut down demands by the young activists for a more just and democratic society.
On Sunday, thousands of people took to the streets to protest the jailing of Joshua Wong, Nathan Law, Alex Chow and 13 other young activists.
Sending young activists to jail cannot narrow the social gap between the authorities and the new generation. Instead, such a move could widen the gap and erode mutual trust.
The problem cannot be solved unless the government fully understands what these young people want for their future and is willing to let their voices heard.
Still, the government is doing what it believes is the best way to boost its exposure among young people in a traditional way.
For example, it is planning to upgrade the Commission on Youth to a Youth Development Commission to lure more young people to get involved in setting youth policy.
But it is quite easy to see that such an official body could only include members of the pro-Beijing camp and not social activists.
Former home affairs minister Patrick Ho commented that it could be quite difficult for the government to attract young people to support the new commission given it doesn’t understand them.
Ho said the government needs to evaluate the root cause of the problem involving young people. If not, the problem cannot be solved by adding a few committees or by inviting young people into advisory bodies.
He also pointed out that Hong Kong’s political system is the “big problem” behind the discontent among young people. Employment, housing, and the lack of upward social mobility are “minor problems that can be easily solved”, he said.
Officials should give young people more say in policymaking to help them achieve their dreams for themselves and the community instead of paying lip service all the time.
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