CE unlikely to hold next dialogue session before policy address

October 04, 2019 15:06
Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks during the first session of the community dialogue last Thursday. The government doesn't seem to have any more bargaining chips for the next session, says the author. Photo: Bloomberg

A level-headed exchange of views and sentiments took place during the first session of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's community dialogue late last month, raising hopes that we could move forward toward resolving the months of unrest in our city.

But such hopes were dashed when violent clashes between police and protesters broke out across the territory and a teenage student was shot and critically injured on October 1st, undercutting all attempts at reconciliation.

Despite this harrowing turn of events, however, sources have told us that the administration has no intention of shelving the community dialogue at this point.

Still, it may be quite difficult to hold a second session of the dialogue before the chief executive delivers her policy address on Oct. 16.

A government figure revealed that one major problem is finding a suitable venue for the talks.

There are two things to consider here: first, the venue must not be too close to residential neighborhoods in order not to run the risk of drawing protesters – and clashes with the police. 

This, in turn, may put neighborhoods nearby in the line of fire and provoke controversies.

And that explains why the Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Wan Chai was chosen as the venue for the first dialogue session on Sept. 26.

The second requirement is that the venue should be government property and easily accessible through public transport.

Although quite a number of social welfare organizations such as the Hong Kong Council of Social Service and the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups own well-equipped venues that can accommodate several hundreds of people, they are quite reluctant to lend their facilities to the government to hold the next dialogue session, the government figure said.

The reason is that these organizations are worried that allowing authorities to use their properties may give protesters the wrong impression that they are on the government’s side.

Meanwhile, a member of a political party said that even if the administration finds the right venue, it doesn't necessarily follow that it would be happy to conduct a second round of the talks.

That's because while participants in the first dialogue were rational and sensible, and did not display radical tendencies, it is uncertain whether the next batch of attendees will behave as calmly toward the chief executive and her principal officials after the shooting of the teenage protester sparked uproar and indignation.

And if violence breaks out during the next dialogue session, it will definitely wipe out whatever the administration has so far achieved in facilitating interaction with the public, the political figure said.

Apart from security concerns, another reason the government may not be holding another dialogue session anytime soon is that it simply doesn’t have any more bargaining chips at its disposal.

As far as the administration is concerned, the issue of establishing an independent commission of inquiry – a major public demand after the extradition bill was finally scrapped – is off the table.

As such, all it can do in the next dialogue session is to repeat the same old tune, i.e., ask the public to give the Independent Police Complaints Council the chance to investigate the alleged cases of police brutality – something that mainstream public opinion won't buy anymore.

Instead of looking for the right venue for the next dialogue session, the political figure said the administration should focus on finding ways to get at the crux of the matter and address the people's demands.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 3

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.