There has been a lukewarm response to Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s remark that she was ready to start talking with a wide cross-section of Hong Kong citizens.
Lam spoke to media before a meeting with the Executive Council on Tuesday, a day after 1.7 million people came out in the rain on Sunday and marched peacefully.
She said a “platform for dialogue” will start immediately in “a very sincere and humble manner”, adding that she and other top officials are ready to reach out to the community and talk to people directly. She hoped to listen to people with different political views.
However, Lam still refuses to agree to any of the five demands that Hong Kong protesters have been calling for since June, such as complete withdrawal of the now-suspended extradition bill that would transfer suspects to mainland China for trial if changes were enacted.
She also refused to set up a commission of inquiry for an independent investigation into the protests and “excessive” use of force by the police force.
Lam insists that the existing Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) is independent but said the scope of any review into the protests would be extended – and she could add more members to the IPCC to help the agency cope with its increasing workload and allow it to hire an overseas expert to assist with its investigations.
Lam revealed that the Complaints Against Police Office had received 174 complaints, nearly a third (30%) of which were related to violent attacks by gangsters against people in Yuen Long on July 21.
Earlier, the government commissioned the IPCC to submit a report within six months covering causes and facts to the protesters, covering the period from June 9 to July 2.
The government is keen to have a “preparatory meeting” this week and will invite around 20 public figures who had previously suggested setting up different kind of platforms, including former chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen, former transport and housing chief Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, Cardinal John Tong Hon and vice-chancellors of local universities, Sing Tao Daily reported.
Members of the ExCo, legislative council members or anyone with a political party background is excluded.
But the Civil Human Rights Front, which organized the rally on Sunday, which reportedly saw a turnout of about 1.7 million people, was cool on the idea. It says Lam is “playing her old tricks” and “setting up a trap” for the protest movement, as she had a very black record.
They referred to a number of previous incidents that Lam was involved in, including a meeting with residents on Lee Tung Street over a redevelopment project in Wan Chai, the debate with activists over the demolition of Queen’s Pier and a meeting with student leaders during the Umbrella Movement. Lam met with the stakeholders, made numerous promises and she’s never fulfilled any of them, the Front said.
In 2014, when Lam was chief secretary and a key official steering the government’s political reform package, she met with five student leaders, but the “dialogue” did nothing for the movement. Later, three of the former student leaders who met Lam ended up being prosecuted.
Vice-convenor for the group, Wong Yik-mo, accused Lam of squandering a golden opportunity to give a substantive answer to the protesters demands following their peaceful demonstrations on the weekend, tipping that her response would only push the city into an abyss.
Meanwhile, Anthony Neoh, chairman of the IPCC, said a commission of inquiry was possible but should not target individual police officers and should focus on ways to improve police operations and social problems, the SCMP reported, but that should be done after the IPCC report.
Lam did not disclose on Tuesday who she would want to invite to join the IPCC. It was understood that she wants to add members with a “neutral image”, hoping to give the impression that the IPCC won’t rush to take a pro-government stance, the Hong Kong Economic Journal quoted sources as saying.
The IPCC currently has 27 members, including three vice-chairmen from the Legislative Council’s pro-establishment camp but no one from the pro-democracy camp.
Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a senior lecturer and prominent scholar at the Chinese University Hong Kong, said Lam did not show sincerity, as she refused to set up a commission of inquiry or name who the new members might be.
The “platform of dialogue” only sent out a message that she is trying to buy time, hoping that dragging out the response might ease some of the tension in society.
But Choy expressed doubt on whether she can achieve this.
The US, meanwhile, has warned that any violent crackdown on the protests in Hong Kong would virtually kill any chance of a trade deal with China.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said it would be “more difficult” to reach a trade deal if the protests end “like Tiananmen Square” – the mass slaughter of students in Beijing in 1989.
“I hope that the trade negotiations move forward, and I hope that Hong Kong is resolved in a peaceful way. Those would be the best outcomes for both China and the United States,” Pompeo said.
Pompeo’s remarks, during an interview on CNBC, reiterate a warning that US President Donald Trump gave on the weekend.
The protests in Hong Kong have continued for 12 weeks without any sign of resolution.