Carrie Lam pledges dialogue over protests

Failure to find political resolution would otherwise spur return to social unrest with unforeseen consequences

Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam

Hong Kong got a rare moment of calm this past weekend, when not a single canister of tear gas was fired - a rarity in a city where the use of the chemical has quickly become something normal over the past two months of protests.

Some 1.7 million people marched peacefully on the city’s streets this past Sunday in a massive show of solidarity and continued dissatisfaction with the government, as they insisted their demands - including the full withdrawal of an extradition bill, and the establishment of an independent investigation into police conduct - be met. Protesters dispersed earlier than usual after a week that saw several demonstrators make public apologies for the beating of two men at the airport last Tuesday.

Yet the temporary respite from clashes that escalated steadily in July risks being thrown into the wind as the city’s leader, Carrie Lam, stood steadfast in refusing to make any concrete form of concession to the protest’s key demands. Yet, addressing the media today, 20 August, Chief Executive Lam pledged to set up a “platform for dialogue” with local communities. While details remained scarce, Lam said that the dialogue platform will involve "people from different walks of life, different political views and stances."

"This is something that we want to do, in a very sincere and humble manner," she told reporters, continuing that her administration is "committed to listen to what the people have to tell us".

She also said the government will enlist international experts to conduct a wide-ranging fact-finding study into the demonstrations, which is set to be released to the public in six months.

The Honk Kong leader, however, insisted in her prepared remarks that there would be no independent investigation into police actions. Instead, she repeated that the existing Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) that began an inquiry last month (pdf) was capable of investigating alleged police misconduct - but did suggest some outside participants could be brought into the process. For the protesters, this is likely a huge slap in the face. Especially since it seems that Lam appeared to be delaying, rather than addressing, protester demands.

Thus, on the online forum LIHKG, which has served as a kind of de facto central command center for protest actions throughout the summer, threads calling for an escalation in tactics in response to Lam’s remarks quickly gained traction. “Set hard deadlines, escalate on all sides!”, one of the posts even read. Further protests are also already planned in the next few days, including one by MTR subway workers on Wednesday, secondary school students on Thursday and accountants on Friday.

A failure to find a political resolution could send Hong Kong hurtling back to the social unrest of past weeks with unforeseen consequences, experts say. Mainland China has repeatedly suggested it could deploy its own security forces - and even its military - to restore order in the semiautonomous Chinese city if local officials can’t manage it themselves.

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