In late September, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, along with some of her principal officials, conducted the first of her community dialogue sessions with members of the public at the Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Wan Chai. Since then, she has stopped holding any similar event.
Instead, over the past one month or so, the chief executive has been sending her bureau chiefs to engage young people, predominantly those born in the 1980s and 1990s, in “in-depth” and closed-door conversations on multiple occasions.
Things have gone quite well with these closed-door sessions, during which the principal officials remained humble and open to the views of the young people.
But Secretary for Home Affairs Lau Kong-wah has dropped a bombshell, revealing that he and the chief executive had met with members of the “valiant protesters”, i.e., frontline protesters who have involved in violent clashes with the police.
The news has stunned the pro-establishment camp, which immediately lashed out at the administration for holding secret dialogues with radical protesters.
As a result, the chief executive herself had to come forward and clarify that the administration didn’t engage in conversation with the “valiants”.
So what’s the real deal? Why the conflicting accounts?
The administration did meet with groups of young people behind closed doors in October.
This intriguing case of “mistaken identity” not only indicates that horizontal communication on the top levels of government is very poor, but also reflects that there is actually a huge gap between our top leaders’ definition of “valiant protesters” and that of the general public.
The government has stressed a number of times that it would not ask about young people’s political stance before engaging them in a dialogue. There is nothing wrong with that; screening doesn’t satisfy the principle of honest communication.
But if our government officials weren’t even clear about where the young people they met are sitting on the political spectrum, and mistook the young people they met, who were actually peaceful, rational and non-violent protesters, for “valiant protesters”, despite a few hours of “in-depth” conversation with them, this would inevitably cast doubts on whether these closed-door meetings are truly efficacious and meaningful.
There is also a concern that such meetings with young people could result in misjudgment within the government about the state of affairs in our city.
But even so, it is said that the government is planning to have two types of dialogue events going on at the same time – holding more closed-door meetings with young people in the coming days while preparing for the next community dialogue session that is open to the public and the media.
On Tuesday, Acting Chief Executive Matthew Cheung Kin-chung told the press before attending the Executive Council meeting that the administration would focus on planning the next round of open dialogue after the District Council elections, which are scheduled for Nov. 24.
A day earlier, President Xi Jinping met with Lam, who was attending the second China International Import Expo in Shanghai. Xi told Lam, among different things, that effective efforts should be made in work, including holding dialogues with all sectors of the society and improving the people’s livelihood.
A government source has revealed that the authorities are now shortlisting venues for the next community dialogue session, with Queen Elizabeth Stadium once again being on the list.
The stadium is a likely choice because of its geographical advantage, the source said. It is not close to any residential neighborhood, which means even if serious clashes between protesters and the police break out, the impact on local residents can be minimized.
The most that can be done is to shut down the schools nearby, the source added.
Meanwhile, another government figure said bluntly that listening to citizens’ views and “sorting out the thread” of these views are only the first step.
In order to win the hearts and minds of our young people, expressing care and concern for them may be more important than just having a dialogue with them, the person said.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov 2
Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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