Pro-establishment lawmakers Michael Tien and Horace Cheung have said they are open to the idea of reopening the East Wing Forecourt of the Central Government Complex, which has been “temporarily” closed since 2014.
“We should embrace the original design of the space, which was intended to be open to the public,” Tien said on a Commercial Radio programme on Friday.
The forecourt, colloquially known as “Civic Square,” was a popular protest site. It was fenced off in 2014 following several mass demonstrations. In September that year, student protesters stormed the square against Beijing’s decision to bar open elections in the city. The protest played a pivotal role in sparking the 79-day pro-democracy Occupy movement.
The square remains closed, with security guards stationed around the clock.
Tien said July 1 – the first day of office for Chief Executive-elect Carrie Lam – would be an ideal timing for demolishing the fences, as the gesture would show that Lam is willing to communicate with the public.
But he said the government would need to think of plans to ensure protesters will not occupy the area when it is reopened.
“I am open to the idea of modifying the design of the square to make law enforcement work easier. Then maybe the government will feel more reassured, and the Security Bureau will likely agree to the proposal,” Tien said.
Pro-Beijing lawmaker Horace Cheung Kwok-kwan also said he was open to the idea, but disagreed on setting a date for the reopening of the area.
“I won’t challenge the government’s security concerns. It would be unreasonable to force the government to reduce security standards,” he said.
But pro-democracy lawmaker Nathan Law argued that security was not the real reason for restricting public access to the forecourt.
“It was clearly a political decision. The Civic Square was the only venue in the city where the public can protest inside the vicinity of the government – this was also the original purpose of the square,” he said.
The 1,000-square-metre site became the focal point of protests against the national education curriculum in 2012 and the government’s denial of a free-to-air licence to HKTV in 2013. The campaigns drew thousands of demonstrators, some of whom set up tents and refused to leave.
Law said people would not have occupied the square had the government been willing to answer the protesters’ demands.
Architect Rocco Yim, whose firm designed the the government complex, told the Wall Street Journal in 2015 that he was disappointed at the the sight of fences going up around the space. He said he wanted the complex to be “a door, not a barrier.”
Last March, then-chief secretary Carrie Lam said the forecourt would remain temporarily closed due to a “high security risk,” as some protesters still had their tents set up outside the area. The tents are no longer there.
She added that the area was “neither a public place nor a designated public open space,” and that it was wrong to call it a “civic square.”
The government said last year that the expenditure of security services for the Central Government Complex and the Chief Executive’s Office totalled around HK$3.5 million a month. It did not have separate data for security services for the East Wing Forecourt.