Civil society not under threat: Eugene Chan

The president of the Association of Hong Kong Professionals, Eugene Chan, has rejected suggestions that civil society in the territory is under threat, backing up comments from Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

Chan told RTHK’s Backchat programme on Friday that recent discussions in society regarding a ban on e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products, as well as about the shortage of medical doctors, showed there was still open debate in society.

“There have been a lot of discussions on these policies, on pro and against, and personally I see no real differences compared to the past,” said Chan, a former chairman of RTHK’s Board of Advisers.

He also pointed to recent elections for the Law Society’s council, after the group was told by Lam and the People’s Daily to stay away from politics or risk ending up the same way as the Professional Teachers’ Union – which disbanded after the government cut ties with it.

Following those comments, the vacant seats in the council were won by lawyers who had said the Law Society should focus on “professional issues”.

Chan said that given the possible consequences, Law Society members had chosen which direction they wanted the body to take.

“Whether you take it as a friendly advice, a warning, a threat… I think everybody will take different views… and if you look at the result, the members did make the choice… they made the choice knowing what could be the possible consequences,” he said.

On Tuesday, Lam told reporters at her weekly press briefing that the government respects civil society, but associations that undermine Hong Kong’s security cannot be condoned.

However, Joseph Cheng, a former politics professor at City University, told Backchat that many public surveys have shown that Hong Kong people have a low opinion of the SAR government, and believe that freedoms have greatly deteriorated in recent months.

Cheng said respected commentators have quit, and political commentary is now both useless and possibly dangerous.

“We do see people have made their choices… students refuse to stand, to come out and stand for student union elections, the pro-democracy camp refuses to send delegates to take part in elections… a lot of people simply feel either they are afraid to stand and they do not think it’s worthwhile to stand, and a lot of people also feel that it’s not worthwhile taking the trouble to go and vote,” said Cheng.