Why community dialogue relaunch is unlikely this month

December 11, 2019 13:24
With the latest mass-rally largely peaceful and calm returning to the city, the government should seize the opportunity and make some announcements to the public, observers say. Photo: Reuters

On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of people once again took to the streets in Hong Kong to voice their demands and show their support for the months-long protest movement.

The mass demonstration was largely peaceful and orderly, and there were no untoward scenes except for two arson incidents outside some court buildings.

As society has returned to relative tranquility, the ball is now back in the government’s court.

Many citizens are eagerly looking to the administration for relaunch of community dialogue sessions. There are also many who hope that authorities will establish an Independent Review Committee (IRC) as soon as possible so as to address public grievances and serve justice.

A pan-dem has pointed out that as violent protests have shown signs of de-escalation, the government can no longer drag its feet over picking up the pieces in society.

As such, the administration should firmly seize the golden opportunity presented by the ongoing peace at this point and respond to public opinion, or else no one can tell whether negative public sentiment might witness a “V-shaped” rebound against the government in the coming days, the person said.

If authorities fail to act, Hong Kong could once again descend into the vicious pit of “quelling violence with violence”, the source warned.

Unfortunately, it isn't certain if the public will get a hearing anytime soon.

It is because, a government source says, the administration is likely to postpone its initial plan of organizing another round of open dialogue sessions, in the wake of the District Council election. The source estimated that these sessions are unlikely to take place before the end of this year.

One reason why the government is having cold feet about relaunching the initiative is that it simply doesn’t have the necessary “bargaining chips” at this stage.

The administration is yet to hammer out the final list of candidates for the proposed IRC, which means even if the CE and her principal officials meet with citizens face-to-face again, they will be unable to put forward any solid proposal to ease public anger.

A “one-way interaction” won’t help resolve the ongoing political predicament, the source said.

Apart from that, the source added, there are also security issues.

Almost immediately after the last dialogue session in September, a number of attendees who spoke publicly in favor of the government were doxxed by netizens.

And since the administration is still unable to come up with a workable plan to guarantee attendees’ “freedom from the fear of getting doxxed”, authorities remain undecided on the timing of the next round of community dialogue sessions.

Besides, according to another government source, as Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is set to go to Beijing this Saturday to meet with Central leaders and report on her work, the administration is unlikely to embark on any new initiative to address the current crisis as it would want to avoid any unnecessary trouble before the CE trip.

Such "tiptoing mindset", as a matter of fact, is nothing new within the SAR government.

For example, on Monday, the Office of the Chief Executive wrote to the Legco Secretariat that it is now “reconsidering” whether to stay the course over holding Carrie Lam’s monthly Q&A sessions at Legco, given the fact that there have been serious disruptions whenever the CE appeared in the legislature in recent months.

On Tuesday, speaking to reporters ahead of an Executive Council meeting, Lam said the monthly question-and-answer session with lawmakers in Legco will have to be reviewed.

But she added that she hopes the regular Q&A session in January can take place smoothly.

All this, however, is just a side issue.

What people are really bothered about is not whether the CE speaks before the legislature, but rather why the government has continued to reject widespread public calls for establishing an independent commission of inquiry to probe the entire anti-extradition saga.

If Lam thinks she can improve the situation by just rearranging her public appearances, she would be making another wrong diagnosis of the "illness" in the city.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec 10

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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RC

Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.