The government's backdowns are part of effort to take controversial issues off the boil, says Central Policy Unit chief Hong Kong faces the threat of large-scale conflicts as it wades through a highly volatile election year, a top adviser to the chief executive has warned. With public trust in the government remaining at rock bottom, the Tung team had adopted a 'highly sensitive and cautious' attitude in handling conflicts in a bid to stop disputes escalating into crises, Lau Siu-kai, of the Central Policy Unit, said. Government efforts to keep controversial issues off the boil could be seen, he said, in recent swift concessions such as putting the Central reclamation project on hold, withdrawing a plan to shorten voting hours in the upcoming district council election and relaxing a proposed ban on keeping pets in public housing. 'Some people criticised the government for lacking direction. I would say we are more willing to react swiftly to public opinion,' Professor Lau told the South China Morning Post. 'You may say we have over-reacted. Our intention is to maintain political peace and to avoid large-scale conflict at a time when the political situation is highly vulnerable and volatile. 'It's not merely because of the July 1 rally. July 1 represents a combination of a long period of frustration and grievances. Given the new political scene, we have to adopt a new attitude to improve governance.' Professor Lau would not be drawn on whether the conciliatory approach was a healthy development for Hong Kong or when the government would return to its previous style of dealing with controversial issues. He accused opposition forces of taking every opportunity to undermine the authority and credibility of the government to push for more democracy. In spite of recent signs of improvement in the political and economic mood of the city, Professor Lau admitted there remained an entrenched view within the community that the government was incompetent, closed and conservative. 'July 1 is not that far away. The feeling of discontent remains strong,' he said. 'Like dried wood, it is highly inflammable. Some unpredicted events could trigger large-scale conflicts. Society is full of elements of political and economic conflict.' The head of government think-tank said public confidence in the administration would only be restored when people were convinced the economy had turned the corner and governance had significantly improved. But Beijing's support of the Tung administration would help restrain the opposition from challenging government policies, Professor Lau said. Domestically, any campaign to turn the government into a lame duck would backfire when sympathisers found that a weak government would not be able to defend the public interest. Professor Lau said neither the government nor the community wanted to see drastic changes and conflicts in the coming year, which would see elections for both the district councils and Legislative Council. 'They want a break to recuperate' from the recent turmoil, he said. With the anti-subversion bill shelved, Professor Lau expects the government's agenda will focus on ways to further strengthen co-operation between Hong Kong and Guangdong under the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement and readjustment of the plan to restore a balance budget. 'The only major issue that remains to be addressed is constitutional reform,' he said. Professor Lau said Mr Tung had yet to discuss the next policy address with him. 'I can only say the government will closely monitor the discussion and study the people's aspirations,' he said.