Chief Executive-elect Carrie Lam said Monday that she will consider reopening the East Wing Forecourt of the Central Government Complex, which has been “temporarily” closed since July 2014.

Lam made the comment in response to refreshed calls from the pro-democracy camp urging the government to allow public access to the forecourt. Pro-establishment lawmakers Michael Tien and Horace Cheung have also said they are open to the suggestion.

Photo of new barrier by Civic Square
Photo of a new barrier by Civic Square. Photo: Alvin Cheng, via Facebook.

The forecourt, colloquially known as “Civic Square,” was a popular protest site until it was fenced off in July 2014. Two months later, student activists stormed the area against Beijing’s decision to bar open elections in the city, sparking the 79-day pro-democracy Occupy protests.

Lam did not elaborate on her promise to consider the proposal. However, incumbent Chief Executive Leung Chung-ying said on an RTHK programme on Saturday that the government maintains a “clear position” that it is not yet time to reopen the forecourt.

He also corrected the talk show host, who referred the area using its colloquial name. “It is the government headquarters,” he said.

He said there may be a public safety risk as there are glass doors and windows on the ground floor facing the forecourt. He added that the need to conduct a risk evaluation is “not unique to Hong Kong – cities big and small also does it given the political climate we face today.”

Divided opinion

Lawmaker Michael Tien said reopening the area could show Carrie Lam’s willingness to face the public. Though Tien and Horace Cheung showed openness to the idea, not all pro-government lawmakers agreed with the proposal.

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Occupy protesters redesigned the road sign during the 2014 movement. File Photo: HKFP.

Cheung’s party colleague Holden Chow said Monday that reopening the forecourt without conducting a comprehensive risk evaluation could lead to “serious consequences.”

“Hong Kong has gone through the Occupy movement and last year’s riot in Mong Kok. I think there is a security concern if we reopen it,” he said, adding that his party would advise Lam against lifting the restriction hastily.

But pro-democracy lawmaker James To disagreed with Chow’s concern that the area may be occupied as soon as it is open to the public.

“Protests are responses to issues of public interest,” he said. “If an issue does not have the public’s attention, you may only get a dozen people trying to occupy the area and they will be easily removed by police. But it is a different story if thousands of people take part: that means it is an issue the government needs to address.”

“The act of occupying is not an issue in itself,” he said, adding that allowing people to protest in the forecourt would allow the government to understand general public sentiment.

See also: Video: Revealing new documentary charts the storming of Civic Square – the moment that sparked Occupy

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Student-led protests at the Civic Square in 2012. File Photo: Wikicommons.

The 1,000-square-metre site gained its nickname when it became the focal point of protests against the national education curriculum in 2012. The protests were led by the now-defunct student group Scholarism and drew tens of thousands of demonstrators, some of whom set up tents and refused to leave.

After days of protests, Leung Chung-ying conceded to shelving the plan. Some pro-government lawmakers criticised Leung at the time for not standing his ground.

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.