The government has held the first community dialogue. Though it put the huge trust gap between the government and the public on full display, the participants did at least show mutual respect and were able to speak their minds freely without constraint, many of whom lashed out at the government and the police force. The dialogue also saw Chief executive Carrie Lam's admission that there was a "disconnect" between herself and the public and that her policies were out of touch with public sentiment.
It was last month when Carrie Lam proposed the idea of meeting with the community. Following a month's preparations, the first community dialogue took place at Wan Chai's Queen Elizabeth Stadium last night. When building the platform for dialogue, the government drew inspiration from the three-month "national debate" by French President Emmanuel Macron to address the "Yellow Vest" movement. Lam stressed that the dialogue was "aimed at change", expressing the wish that she could engage in frank dialogue with citizens.
It is easy to destroy trust but very hard to rebuild it. The amendment storm has caused a breakdown in trust between the government and citizens. The public is still very sceptical about whether the government is willing to listen to public opinion with humility. Some people think that the community dialogue was merely a "public relations exercise". Some were unhappy about the myriad limitations imposed by the protocol of the dialogue on participants. Some were sceptical about whether the participants were truly representative of the public and whether there would be chaos inside and outside the stadium, making it impossible for the event to take place. But the dialogue turned out to run more smoothly than expected. Though hundreds of slogan-chanting citizens were gathered outside the stadium, they did not interfere with the dialogue. Inside the stadium, participants harshly criticised the government but at the same time fully demonstrating their "peace, rationality and non-violence". There were not any vigorous quarrels between people of different views.
Given the social atmosphere in Hong Kong, just one or two dialogue sessions will achieve little when it comes to easing the tension. No sooner had the session ended than a group of protesters occupied the road and engaged in confrontation with the police. It was not until 1.30 a.m. when Carrie Lam finally managed to leave the stadium. But the fact that the first dialogue session itself was conducted without mishap is a good start. It is hoped that more rational dialogue between the government and the public is yet to come and Hong Kong will find a way out.
Though the first dialogue session was boycotted by many of those against the amendments, it was not a political reality show where high-ranking officials could sit in the comfort of an echo chamber. Overall it was marked by open, free airing of views. Most of what the attendees said was quite representative of the views of many members of society. To begin with, many speakers talked about the attacks carried out by men in white at Yuen Long on 21 July and criticised the performance of the police. Sceptical about the scope of authority of the Independent Police Complaints Council, they demanded the establishment of an independent committee of inquiry. Some speakers mentioned the controversy over the disqualification of some people from LegCo elections in recent years and their worry about the future of "One country, two systems". As for Carrie Lam, she did take herself down a peg or two by admitting the "disconnect" between herself and the public, that she was out of touch with public sentiment and that she had not listened enough, giving the impression of being obstinate.
Violence does not solve any problems. Dialogue is always better than resorting to the use of brute force. If one looks at similar matters globally, one will remember that the issue of Northern Ireland, complicated as it was, was resolved through dialogue and a pathway to peace was ultimately found. There is no reason why Hong Kong should give up the use of dialogue to sort out differences.