New Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam wants to work with opposition, and Beijing isn’t saying no
Chief executive hints at reopening popular protest spot which was closed shortly before 2014’s Occupy sit-ins
Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor revealed on Monday that her plan to mend ties with pan-democrats had started well as Beijing “did not ask even a single question” on her decision to include a pan-democrat in her cabinet.
The new leader also extended another olive branch to the opposition by dropping her strongest hint yet that she was prepared to reopen the forecourt outside the government headquarters – the area sealed off in 2014 and stormed by activists at the start of the 79-day Occupy sit-ins later that year.
At a media briefing, she said she would put significant emphasis on bridging the divide with the pan-democrats. She also made it clear that when it came to local government matters, the mainland’s liaison office in the city had no role to play – contrary to what her detractors claim.
Law resigned from the Democratic Party to become labour and welfare minister. Tong, the convenor of Path of Democracy think-tank, is on the Executive Council.
Lam said she did not plan to rely only on them but believed they could offer valuable insight into ways to forge better communication with pan-democrats.
Lam said Beijing’s immediate approval of Law being in her team was a “good sign” and consistent with what President Xi Jinping said at her inauguration on Saturday. Beijing, he said, was ready to talk to dissenters as long as they loved the country and the city and backed “one country, two systems”.
Meanwhile, Lam also said she would “actively review” reopening so-called Civic Square – a move which even several pro-establishment lawmakers agreed could promote reconciliation.
A high fence – seen by some as a symbol of restrictions on freedom of assembly – was built around the forecourt in 2014 after major sit-ins, including a protest against national education.
While Lam believed the security issues there could be resolved, she also said the issue was a matter of the executive branch’s dignity as officials should be able to take the most direct route to the Legislative Council from their office instead of in a roundabout way.
Lam also stressed that Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong did not play a role in Legco affairs, as she pledged to work harder in getting rid of the negative perception that the government relied on the office to lobby lawmakers on unpopular new laws.
“If lawmakers want to give us a hard time, we need to face it and deal with it ourselves,” she said.
Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu welcomed her remarks but urged her to put words into action. “Any responsible and sensible leader should maintain a reasonable relationship with the opposition, instead of treating it as an enemy like what happened in the past five years,” he said, referring to her predecessor, Leung Chun-ying.
Democratic Party lawmaker Wu Chi-wai echoed the view, adding the reopening of Civic Square could be the first and easiest thing that Lam could do to start rebuilding trust. “It is a decision that she can make on her own,” he said.
Separately, Lam sent Legco president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen an email on Monday, expressing hope that relations between the executive and legislative branches could be improved.