Date
23 October 2019
Carrie Lam's so-called dialogue platform is doomed to failure before it even begins, our columnist writes. Photo: Reuters
Carrie Lam's so-called dialogue platform is doomed to failure before it even begins, our columnist writes. Photo: Reuters

I’ll talk about anything, other than your demands

Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive in Name Only (CENO), has declared that Hong Kong is in the middle of a ‘raging storm’ and, in keeping with her determination to disappoint at all times, has decided that the way to extinguish this storm is to cap it off with a thimble.

The thimble comes in the shape of a ‘dialogue platform’, a device for ‘sincere’ communication that’s doomed to failure before it even begins its complex and ponderous progress.

In the weird and wonderful world occupied by the CENO reality is firmly excluded as she fretfully hides inside her Upper Albert Road mini-palace and travels under heavy guard to her nearby office in the government complex.

In this hermetically sealed environment she spends most of her time either communicating with fellow bureaucrats or receiving orders from her bosses in Beijing who occasionally summon her across the border for face to face meetings but they have other hotlines that can be used when the need arises. Sometimes she ventures out to ‘meet the public’, this is done in secret and these tightly controlled encounters are only made known subsequently when her press people hand out photos proving that she actually spends time outside the office.

Her other encounters with non-bureaucrats largely consist of meeting political representatives who used to be known as being pro-government but have now come to realize that the CENO is so toxic that they feel the need to distance themselves from the source of the contamination. The friendless Lam also has the odd meeting with business leaders who are then sheepishly paraded in a manner implying that they enthusiastically support her. Their faces tell another story.

Against this dire background the CENO has appointed a former policeman and fellow bureaucrat, Warner Cheuk, to run this farcical dialogue platform.

Dialogue will not however be taking place with the people who are opposing her policies and indeed she stated before a single session began that the protestors’ remaining four demands will not be met but, apparently, they can talk about anything else, really anything aside from that which has mobilized millions of citizens to take part in the protests.

To be fair to the CENO she has no idea who leads the protests but is making an attempt to identify them by putting as many as possible in jail. Even if the leaders were to emerge, it is terminally unlikely that they would be willing to participate in a dialogue that starts from a position of adamantly rejecting their demands.

There is always the option of speaking to the traditional leaders of the pro-democrat camp or even to people like Joshua Wong from the younger generation but the CENO has no interest in this kind of dialogue, and her lack of interest is returned in spades by the democrats who have never had an encounter with Lam that was anything less than aggressively frustrating.

The crucial problem in talking to Lam is that, as she has now admitted, she is powerless. Meaningful talks really need to be held with the Chinese Communist Party leadership but the party does not do talks, it does commands.

Nonetheless if the CENO had the smallest hope of something emerging from this laughable dialogue she most certainly would not have appointed a retired bureaucrat, sharing her blinkered mindset, to conduct affairs. She would have at least pretended that everything was up for discussion and not said at the outset that protestors’ demands could not even be brought to the table.

Compare and contrast how the CENO is going about things with the way that France’s President Macron embarked on a nationwide barnstorming dialogue with his country’s citizens. He started by making a substantial gesture to the yellow vest protestors by removing a highly controversial fuel tax. Then he really got deep into exchanges of views with angry protestors and everyone else. Macron was criticized for putting on a show but he succeeded in the crucial aim of lowering the temperature of discontent and moving, perhaps with excessive modestly, towards addressing the concerns of the protestors.

The CENO, in contrast, has merely managed to make angry people angrier and has embarked on a process that even the usual government-supporting suspects concede has no chance of success.

The only mystery is whether in the bizarre world Lam occupies, she actually believes that this doomed project has a chance of a success or whether the whole thing is no more than a cynical ploy to try and prove that she is actually doing something after months of rage which has mainly resulted in the administration going into hiding.

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RC

Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author