‘Civic Square’ to reopen for first time since 2014 protests led by jailed Hong Kong activists
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung follows up on vow by city’s leader to heal divide between administration and youth
Hong Kong’s No 2 official announced on Tuesday that the square outside the government’s headquarters, previously closed due to safety concerns as it became a focal point for protests, would be reopened but he did not set a date.
The statement by Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung marked the strongest indication yet that the government was pressing ahead with the plan to remove the barriers at the forecourt, popularly dubbed the “Civic Square”.
The area was stormed by a group in 2014, led by jailed student activists Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang, sparking a clash with police that became a prelude to the Occupy protests.
Speaking to reporters ahead of the weekly Executive Council meeting, Cheung, who is standing in for Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, reiterated that the government’s “open and positive” attitude on healing the divide between the administration and the city’s youth had remained unchanged.
“In fact the chief executive has made it quite clear. We will reopen the forecourt … the question is how to do this,” Cheung said, adding that the plan would be implemented once management issues were settled.
Lam, who is away on a Shanghai visit, had dropped a strong hint on August 1 that the square would be reopened.
She pledged during her election campaign to consider reopening the 1,000 square metre area, which was closed by her predecessor Leung Chun-ying in July 2014 after several major sit-ins, including a 10-day demonstration against a proposed national education curriculum.
Last week government prosecutors secured stiffer sentences for Wong, Law and Chow, who were jailed for six to eight months by the Court of Appeal.
The ruling led to a protest march on Sunday from Wan Chai to Central, which organisers claimed was the biggest since the Occupy pro-democracy movement in 2014.
On Tuesday Cheung also stressed that the government would like to enhance communication with young people, and that its determination had not swayed despite the recent controversies.
He said the current Commission on Youth would be converted into a formal committee under his chairmanship, so as to better coordinate youth policy between various departments.
“Give us some time for this government to rebuild mutual trust and interactive relationships with the young,” Cheung pledged.