Hong Kong protests: city’s leader Carrie Lam commits to ‘creating a platform for dialogue’ but again dismisses calls for independent inquiry into police conduct

Jeffie Lam

Hong Kong’s embattled leader on Tuesday offered to create a platform for dialogue to end nearly three months of anti-government protests, but she again rejected widespread calls for an independent investigation into police conduct and a formal withdrawal of the now-abandoned extradition bill that sparked the political crisis.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said her administration would immediately work on the platform to find a solution to the civil unrest sweeping the city. But she insisted an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Council would be sufficient to look into allegations of police misconduct.

“All my principal officials and I are committed to listening to what the people have to tell us,” she said, adding she would start approaching those who in the past had proposed talks.

“I think it is a very sincere expression of my hope to have dialogue with various sectors of society.”

Several university presidents have already called for an open platform for different stakeholders to express their views and narrow their differences.

On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets in a peaceful demonstration that passed without any violence or clashes with police.

“I sincerely hope this is the start of society returning to peace and moving away from violence,” Lam said of that march.

I sincerely hope this is the start of society returning to peace and moving away from violence

Carrie Lam, chief executive

Such days have been rare over the past two months as the campaign against the extradition bill morphed into a full-blown anti-government movement, with the use of force escalating on both sides.

Lawmakers and protesters have urged Lam to capitalise on the lull, and respond to their demands.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam at her office in Tamar on Tuesday. Photo: Sam Tsang

“The peaceful march on Sunday was one of the few opportunities that Hongkongers offered Lam to address their calls, but unfortunately, the five demands are again dashed,” front convenor Jimmy Sham Tsz-kit said.

“Is Lam really sincere about having dialogue?”

Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a political scientist at Chinese University, said he doubted the effectiveness of Lam’s approach, pointing out that protesters who wanted their demands met might see it as a delaying tactic.

“It would take a long time to come up with the composition of the platform and ways to take the dialogue results forward,” he said.

Choy said he believed the line-up of the platform would not seem credible or convincing to protesters.

A source close to the government said the administration was seriously exploring ways to proceed with the move so it could start talking to young protesters as soon as possible.

“It is a matter of how,” the source said. “Should the government lead the platform, or invite a youth organisation to do it and let authorities play a key role? Who should join the platform? These are questions to be solved.”

Protest inquiry should not probe police officers’ conduct: watchdog chief

As for investigating police conduct, Lam insisted the force’s watchdog was best positioned to do the job, and more members might be appointed to the IPCC in light of its heavy workload, with overseas experts being called in to offer advice.

Lam once again ruled out a full withdrawal of the extradition bill, but said there was “no plan to revive this, especially in light of the public’s concern”.

Aside from the full withdrawal of the bill and an independent inquiry, protesters have also called for the stalled political reform process to be revived, for the government to retract its characterisation of previous violent clashes as riots, and for everyone arrested in connection with the clashes to be freed unconditionally.

Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai said Lam’s proposals would not stem the protests.

“The platform has no statutory status and how are you going to build credibility for it?” he said.

Baptist University president Professor Roland Chin welcomed Lam’s proposal. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, and such a platform will hopefully enable our community to not only kick-start a series of dialogues but also promote understanding, empathy and reconciliation,” he said, without disclosing whether the government had approached him.

A frontline protester surnamed Wong, 18, said he did not think the platform would make a difference.

“We are talking about the five major demands. I don’t think there would be any constructive results from such dialogue,” he said.

The student also questioned if Lam really dared to pound the pavement for her cause.

“Huge clashes are likely to happen if Lam really visits communities,” he said.

Additional reporting by Olga Wong and Kimmy Chung

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