Govt needs to see things from the youth perspective

July 12, 2019 14:11
Riot police stand guard during an extradition bill-related protest in Mong Kok last Sunday. Law enforcement has found itself shouldering the burden of a highly divisive political issue created by the government. Photo: Bloomberg

With Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor admitting that her extradition bill plan was a "total failure" and that the bill is "dead", it should go some way in putting the controversy to rest.

We believe that, barring unexpected situations, no one will dare to touch this politically radioactive issue again in the foreseeable future.

Following the recent events, the most important task lying before authorities now is to resolve the deep-seated conflicts in society and help the city move on.

On Tuesday, Lam extended an olive branch to university students by saying that she now welcomes an open dialogue with them.

But the call was met with a cold shoulder by student unions of tertiary institutions, which said two conditions must be met before any meeting can take place.

The two conditions are: an amnesty to all those who were involved in clashes during the anti-extradition bill protests, and for the meeting to be held in an open and fair manner where representatives from various sectors of society and members of the press are allowed to join in.

The student representatives, meanwhile, also urged Lam to respond sincerely to the five demands made by the public in the wake of the extradition bill fiasco.

So if the university students have slammed the door in Lam's face with their demands, what next? Can secondary school students be brought into the picture, and can they be treated as a party for dialogue by the government?

In our opinion, as long as Lam sheds her haughtiness and agrees to listen to the views of our new generation in a humble way, it doesn’t really matter as to whether she meets with university students, high-schoolers, or working youth.

Nor does it matter when and where such meetings should be held. The only thing that matters for a constructive dialogue is the willingness of top officials to hear the people's voices seriously.

It is not really that difficult for adults to grasp the views of young citizens.

But the key lies in this: the adults should learn to see things from the perspective of the youth. A mindset of empathy and understanding is what is needed.

The real issue can’t be clearer: had our young people not felt that they had been forced into a corner and left with no other choices, they would never have resorted to violence as a means of protest.

In recent weeks, we have had news of some deaths linked to the extradition bill crisis. Reports suggested that some people took their own lives due to despair and hopelessness about the social and political situation in the city.

The reports are extremely disturbing, and should prompt anyone with a conscience to think about what has gone wrong in society.

The “perfect storm” over the extradition bill could have been avoided if Lam had been able to empathize with the young people and shown understanding of their feelings, rather than stubbornly stick to her stand in the run-up to the mass protests.

And when it comes to empathy, it applies to the police as well.

We understand that the police have been under a lot of unnecessary stress since the outbreak of the crisis, resulting in some over-reaction in the handling of the protests.

Speaking of intense confrontations between the police and protesters, it is inappropriate for the administration to rely only on law enforcement.

The police are supposed to be “politically neutral”; it is not fair to ask the police officers to shoulder the burden of a highly divisive political issue created by the government in the first place.

All in all, political issues should be resolved politically, and the politically accountable officials should take responsibility for their actions.

Communication channel between the public and the government should always be kept open so as to reduce the risk of confrontation between the two sides.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 11

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal