Showing respect for civil society is 1st step to reconciliation

November 21, 2019 19:05
People gather for a demonstration in Central on Nov. 13. White-collar office workers have been taking to the streets during lunch hours to voice their support for the frontline protesters in Hong Kong. Photo: Reuters

Compared to the Occupy movement five years ago, Hong Kong's civil society has been getting more deeply involved in the ongoing anti-government protest movement.

In recent days, many white-collar office workers, including bankers and corporate executives and professionals from the legal and healthcare sectors, have taken to the streets in Central during lunch hours to voice their support for the frontline protesters.

That suggests that the middle class and the professionals in the city are deeply concerned about social justice and oversight of public power.

With some members of the public providing humanitarian aid for students who were trapped inside the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), we can say that the motivating factor was a set of universal values shared among the civil society -- values such as freedom, human dignity, humanity, and the value of human life.

Together, these common values have given rise to widespread sympathy and concern for the student protesters at the PolyU, and as a result, triggered “a sense of responsibility” among members of the civil society that they should attempt to rescue the students despite the risk that they themselves could get arrested in launching their action.

As indicated in various opinion polls in recent years, the credibility of the government had been on a downward trajectory, and it plummeted drastically in recent months in the wake of the extradition bill fiasco.

Recently, authorities have been running commercials urging citizens to dissociate themselves from the radical frontline protesters, only to be met with a lukewarm response.

The reason why people are ignoring the entreaties is because their feelings of hate and mistrust of the authorities have become very intense, and they would rather put up with inconveniences such as transport disruptions and violence due to street battles, rather than cut ties with the "valiant" protesters.

Given the situation, if the administration hopes to regain public trust, it can't just mouth platitudes and make appeals to people to dissociate themselves from the radical protesters, while continuing to deploy tear gas on the streets. Instead, it should show sincere concern for civil society and build a genuine dialogue and communication platform.

Authorities would do well to discuss with members from various disciplines, including the legal, religious, education, healthcare and social work sectors as well as the media, about how to build a civil platform and mechanism of mediation through which public grievances can be addressed.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov 21

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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HKEJ columnist

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