Square’s reopening is a show of faith
The decision to reopen the forecourt of the Central Government Office where the pro-democracy Occupy movement began in 2014 should be seen as a step towards building trust among all Hongkongers and their desire to work constructively together
The symbolism of the 1,000-square-metre forecourt of the Central Government Office popularly known as “Civic Square” cannot be ignored; it was where the 79-day pro-democracy Occupy movement began in 2014. The government’s erecting of a three-metre fence along one side as a security measure two months before the protests began spurred activists to try to scale it and resort to violence, actions that landed some in jail. The honouring of an election pledge by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to reopen the area therefore makes a statement that circumstances are returning to normal. That there are still restrictions on demonstrations should not be dwelt upon, as it should instead be viewed as a step towards building trust.
Activists complain that restricting protests to times when few officials and lawmakers will be in the complex defeats the purpose of the square. But although the area became the focus of demonstrations before Occupy, it was never meant for such use; it was intended for vehicles and as a passageway between the government and legislative buildings. Under the new requirements, only staff and journalists with passes will have access on workdays and permits will be required to hold gatherings on Sundays and public holidays. The rules are understandable; authorities need to strike a balance between security and being transparent.
But given the political passions of a small number of Hongkongers, precautions have to be taken. Within hours of the reopening on Thursday, about 10 members of the opposition Labour Party marched into the square without a permit and were eventually allowed by guards to hold a 20-minute protest. Disregard for public order is the reason access was blocked. If the chaos and inconvenience cause by past demonstrations are to be avoided, laws and rules have to be followed. The reopening of the square is not about political show; it is about faith in Hongkongers and their desire to work constructively together. If rules are followed, trust between the government and those with opposing views can be rebuilt, leading to better understanding and dialogue. With time, there will be every chance of allowing greater use of the square.