Perspectives on peace-building from Northern Ireland and South Africa will be part of a full-day forum on Saturday, organised by a group of Hong Kong businesspeople, professionals and academics to help bring the city out of the ongoing unrest now in its sixth month.
About 500 people are expected to attend the public forum – titled “Ways Forward: Let’s Talk and Listen” – organised by the Hong Kong Forward Alliance and funded by donations from individuals, corporations and foundations with support from volunteers.
Entrance is free to the event, at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai, but attendees will need to register in advance.
Among the overseas speakers will be Clem McCartney, a peace-building expert from Northern Ireland, and Hannes Siebert, a peace process facilitator and former director of the National Peace Secretariat, a multiparty organisation set up to end violence in South Africa in the 1990s.
The organisers hope the overseas perspective will prove insightful in helping to bring about peace in Hong Kong, which has been rocked by increasingly violent protests since June. Triggered by the now-withdrawn extradition bill, the unrest has widened into an anti-government movement.
There are fears the protests could intensify following the death on November 8 of university student Chow Tsz-lok, who suffered severe brain injury after falling four metres from a car park near an area of confrontation between protesters and police.
Lawyer Teresa Ma Ka-ming, one of the leaders of the Hong Kong Forward Alliance, said that, from around late August to early September, the group had felt there was a need for dialogue to help Hong Kong “get out of the current deadlock”, although it was not their agenda to help the government to promote dialogue, she said.
“We are a group that feels for this place. In other places that are going through or have gone through social unrest, civil society has used its own power to bring change. The alliance’s work is just consistent with that.”
Also leading the alliance are Christine Loh Kung-wai, an adjunct professor at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and a former undersecretary for the environment; business consultant Chandran Nair; and University of Hong Kong legal scholar Puja Kapai.
Joining them in the initiative are executive coach, facilitator and mediator Graham Barkus; Beacon Events CEO Daniel Kirwin; Zubin Foundation CEO Shalini Mahtani; WYNG Foundation CEO Yip Yan-yan and Southern district councillor Paul Zimmerman.
Hong Kong speakers at the forum include former Executive Council member Anna Wu Hung-yuk, currently chairwoman of the Competition Commission, Puja Kapai, Christine Loh and non-violent communication practitioner Chi Hin Cheong.
Raymond Mak, previously with the moderate think tank Path of Democracy, will also be speaking at Saturday’s forum where he hopes to raise the issue of social media. “There has been a resolution after three decades of conflict in Northern Ireland, but there was no social media at that time,” he said.
“Hong Kong’s protests have been complex because social media plays an influential role nowadays.”
Other overseas speakers include Malaysian activist Thomas Fann, who chairs an election watchdog called Bersih 2.0; independent consultant on conflict transformation Michael Alar, and Bangkok-based journalist Noppatjak Attanon.
“Every conflict has its own unique mesh of relationships and dynamics,” Ma said. “Peace begins with investigation of the context. There is no cookie-cutter solution. We hope the public forum will help us to shape our own solutions.”
Alliance member Loh believes the event will be an opportunity for Hongkongers to learn about conflict and the tools for dialogue and reconciliation.
“Since Hong Kong is in a very difficult situation, this is a good time for Hong Kong people to co-learn,” the former official said. Asked if she expected the forum to help calm the situation in Hong Kong, Loh said: “It is too much to say any one event can ‘calm things down’ on its own, but this is our contribution towards peace, dialogue and reconciliation.”
Loh said she hoped participants would be able to use what they learned at the event to heal divisions within their families, among colleagues and friends. The shared skills could also be used by institutions and the government to create a dialogue about the policies and political issues dividing society, she said.
Loh said the alliance had not yet discussed holding more events, but its members might organise future dialogues on their own.
Alliance member Zimmerman is seeking re-election in Hong Kong’s district council elections on November 24, in Southern district’s Pok Fu Lam constituency. He is running against Siu Wai-chung and Maxine Yao Jie-ning.
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This article Hong Kong protests: unrest brings new group together to find ways to help city heal first appeared on South China Morning Post