Lam holds first dialogue to end unrest
Move marks a positive step, but deep divisions remain: analyst
Published: Sep 26, 2019 11:28 PM

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor speaks at the first community dialogue session at the Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Wan Chai on Thursday. Photo: Zhao Juecheng/GT

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Thursday night held her first community dialogue session with residents, in an effort to end persistent political unrest in the city through peaceful dialogues.

At a packed stadium - where the roiling tensions in Hong Kong society were palpable, with many in attendance continuing to criticize the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government and the police, while others offered the government staunch support - Lam argued that dialogues are necessary to address Hong Kong's "broader" issues and appealed for renewed confidence in the city. 

"I believe everyone is still concerned about whether there will be violent confrontations again in the future. Nonetheless, the government thinks it's time to start a dialogue," Lam said in her brief opening statement. "The purpose of the dialogue is not for the sake of dialogue but to seek change."

As part of a four-action plan announced earlier this month, the HKSAR government invited 150 residents to the dialogue, where they were randomly selected to speak. 

Several other HKSAR officials, including Secretary for Home Affairs Lau Kong-wah and Secretary for Constitutional & Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip, were in attendance.

The tensions and conflicts, the result of months of violent clashes, were palpable at the dialogue. 

Outside the venue some protesters gathered; inside the venue residents expressed vastly divided opinions about how to move forward.

In the roughly two hour-long dialogue, where about 30 residents spoke, some repeatedly made demands and unsubstantiated allegations against the HKSAR government and the police. Some had harsh criticism of the radical protesters and called for actions against those who fueled it. There was also genuine concern over social issues.

Lam, who mostly listened to residents, calmly responded to the comments each time after several speakers had spoken. 

On criticism toward her and the HKSAR government, she acknowledged that she is "most responsible" as the chief executive and acknowledged that trust in the HKSAR government and the police declined, which is all the "more reason" for holding dialogues to find a way out.

On the political demands, the chief executive said that she has heard them and responded to them on many occasions but argued that issues relating to people's livelihood, the economy and politics are "broader" than the five demands.   

On concerns over layoffs by airlines and the Hong Kong airport, Lam said as long as Hong Kong maintains the "one country, two systems," the airport remains viable, and Hong Kong's advantages remain intact and  the city can still gain global confidence and recognition.

In a rare moment during the past few months that have silenced voices opposed to the violence, some residents took the chance on Thursday night to speak out against radicals. 

Early in the session, participants burst into applause when a woman stood up and called for an investigation into members of the Hong Kong Legislative Council, teachers, religious people who have fueled the protests. She spoke of the need to make changes to the education system and to take action against fake journalists and media organizations who smear the government and the police. 

"It's a good start for Lam to further enhance communication and keep an open attitude. [Her] attitude is sincere," said Tang Fei, a member of the council of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies in Hong Kong, noting that the dialogue was held in an orderly fashion despite vast divisions.

Despite Lam and HKSAR government officials listened to the public, a mob of protesters gathered outside the venue and blocked Lam from leaving the facility after the session ended.

Hong Kong police issued a safety notice late Thursday night after rioters blocked the entrance of the stadium where the dialogue was held, warning the mobs to stop illegal actions.