Hong Kong Leader Carrie Lam To Withdraw Extradition Bill That Sparked Protests (#GotBitcoin?)
Chief executive pledges to increase dialogue with community, seek independent review of political, economic and social climate. Hong Kong Leader Carrie Lam To Withdraw Extradition Bill That Sparked Protests (#GotBitcoin?)
Chief Executive Carrie Lam offered her first major concession to protesters’ demands after months of unrest in Hong Kong, saying she would withdraw the extradition bill that sparked the turmoil.
In a recorded address Wednesday, Mrs. Lam said the move was to allay public concerns. She also pledged to increase dialogue with the community and said she would seek an independent review of the political, economic and social climate.
The withdrawal of the bill addresses one of five demands from the opposition movement and is a compromise that seems aimed at weakening popular support for the protests, though it isn’t clear if it will reduce the tensions that have gripped the city for three months.
The withdrawal is the first direct concession to protesters’ demands aimed at resolving the crisis after three months of official condemnation and heavy policing. Such a move by the top official of the Chinese territory would require endorsement from Beijing.
During the turmoil, public approval of the chief executive and satisfaction with the government have hit their lowest levels since China regained sovereignty over the former British colony in 1997.
“I recognize that these may not be able to address all the grievances of people in society,” Mrs. Lam said. “However, should we all think deeply whether escalating violence and disturbances is the answer? Or whether it is better to sit down to find a way out through dialogue.”
The uprising in Hong Kong is one of the biggest challenges facing Chinese President Xi Jinping. In a speech on Tuesday, Mr. Xi called for a determined fight to overcome any risk or challenge that endangers Communist Party leadership or harms China’s sovereignty and security, state media reported. Mr. Xi didn’t name Hong Kong or any specific challenges.
Demonstrations against the bill in June led Mrs. Lam to suspend the legislation—which would have allowed citizens to be sent for trial in mainland China’s opaque justice system—but her failure to formally scrap the proposal has fueled mass peaceful protests and increasingly violent actions by hard-core activists who have clashed with police.
Withdrawing the bill from the legislature means it can’t be revived as easily as it could have been while suspended.
The protests have now developed into a broader opposition movement with additional demands, including an inquiry into the Hong Kong Police Force’s handling of the demonstrations and calls for greater democracy, demands which have angered Beijing.
Thousands of protesters took to the social-media app Telegram to say the concession wasn’t enough and they would continue to push for all their demands.
“Too little, too late,” said pro-democracy figure Joshua Wong, who called Mrs. Lam’s announcement deceptive. “Whenever the government appears to extend an olive branch, they always come with a far tighter grip on civil rights,” he said.
On Wednesday evening, a few dozen pro-democracy supporters gathered at the Legislative Council building. “Hong Kongers will not be satisfied by a partial victory,” said a masked protester. “And our thirst for freedom and justice will not be quenched.”
Sporadic clashes between small groups of protesters and police continued into the early hours of Thursday in several districts.
Earlier, Hong Kong stocks jumped on reports of plans to withdraw the legislation. The city’s benchmark Hang Seng Index rose 4% on Wednesday, its biggest one-day gain since November.
“Withdrawing the bill is an important first step to restore business confidence and the city’s international reputation,” said Robert Grieves, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.
Last week, Mrs. Lam told people at a private meeting that the unrest had become a national-security and sovereignty issue for Beijing. That, she told attendees, limited her options in trying to end the political crisis, according to a leaked audio recording obtained by Reuters.
The comments suggested a rift with officials in Beijing who have taken a tough stance against opposition voices, labeling the more radical violent protesters terrorists and revolutionaries.
China’s ruling Communist Party is now testing if a softer approach might work, said Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute in London.
“If this also fails to secure the result it wants or China’s leaders want, I would expect a return to an even harder line repressive approach,” he said.
A spokesman for Beijing’s top body overseeing Hong Kong affairs said Tuesday that it was important for people to distinguish between peaceful protests and “violent crimes and activities challenging ‘one country, two systems,’” under which Hong Kong was promised 50 years of semiautonomy. The city’s citizens have more freedoms than mainland Chinese citizens do.
The unrest has torn a hole in Hong Kong’s economy, dented its reputation as an international finance center and a safe place to do business. Retailers and tourism have been sharply hit and a number of the city’s biggest companies—including developers and the city’s flagship airline Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd.—are feeling the pain after being dragged into the conflict.
Thousands of workers went on strike this week and university and high-school students boycotted classes and held protests, dashing government hopes that the opposition movement would peter out once school resumed.
Mrs. Lam’s previous refusal to use the word “withdrawal” had angered many. She suspended the bill on June 15, but a rally a day later demanding she withdraw it drew a record turnout of two million people, according to organizers’ estimates.
In July, Mrs. Lam said the bill was “dead,” although opposition groups said without a formal withdrawal, the city’s legislature could quickly revive it for a reading and vote.
Many people in the city are weary of the unrest, which at times has led to the closure of subway stations and the city’s airport. Yet anger at authorities has also risen. Police have been criticized for heavy-handed treatment of protesters and local officials have been accused of turning a deaf ear to people’s grievances.
At near-daily protests in the city, demonstrators chant, “Five demands! Can’t even have one less!” In addition to the bill’s withdrawal and an investigation into police conduct, protesters also want a removal of a “riot” designation for a demonstration on June 12, amnesty for all who have been arrested since early June, and greater democracy, a demand that analysts believe is unobtainable at this time.
Street occupations in 2014, demanding universal suffrage in the election of the city’s leader, fizzled out without any concessions from Beijing.
Mrs. Lam made the announcement after summoning pro-establishment lawmakers and other senior pro-China figures in the city. On Wednesday afternoon, a stream of Mercedes, Lexus and BMW luxury vehicles arrived at Government House, a colonial mansion in the heart of the city where Mrs. Lam resides.
At the meeting, lawmaker Michael Tien reiterated his views to Mrs. Lam that an independent inquiry led by a judge was important to cool down societal tensions, Mr. Tien said. She turned down his suggestion, he said.
The Civil Human Rights Front, the organizer of some of the biggest marches this summer, said that “the most basic appeal of all conscience-minded Hong Kong people is to set up an independent investigation commission to judge the truth of what happened during this period, with justice.”
It said that the “so-called dialogue will just be a public-relations game that they’ve long criticized in the past,” and it would call for further protests.
Mrs. Lam said no new inquiry was needed into police actions during the protests as a probe was already under way by an independent police complaints council, to which she added two new members.
Critics have expressed distrust in that body and have said it lacks objectivity. The council doesn’t have investigative power, can’t summon witnesses and is comprised of many pro-government figures.
U.S. Offers Hong Kong Residents Temporary Safe Haven Amid China’s Political Crackdown
White House action would give qualified residents of the Chinese territory an 18-month work permit and a reprieve from deportation.
President Biden on Thursday signed an order enabling some Hong Kong residents to remain in the U.S. rather than return to the Chinese territory, citing Beijing’s crackdown on political freedom there.
Hong Kong residents who qualify for the program will be granted a work permit for 18 months and a reprieve from deportation. In the past, U.S. administrations have extended similar actions beyond their initial expiration dates.
“This action demonstrates President Biden’s strong support for people in Hong Kong in the face of ongoing repression by the People’s Republic of China, and makes clear we will not stand idly by as the PRC breaks its promises to Hong Kong and to the international community,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
The White House said it would defer the removal of certain Hong Kong residents in the U.S. to grant them a “temporary safe haven” from Chinese repression.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The action, which a U.S. official estimated would affect thousands of individuals, is the latest in a series Mr. Biden has taken in objection to China’s aggression against Hong Kong and other allies.
Under the agreement returning the former British colony to Chinese rule in 1997, Beijing guaranteed Hong Kong residents a high degree of political autonomy and freedom for at least the next 50 years.
But in recent years China has tightened its grip on the territory, denying its residents basic human rights and freedoms, and eroding its autonomy and ability to function safely as a global business hub.
Last month, the Biden administration warned businesses and individuals working for them that they are subject to a restrictive national-security law that Beijing imposed on Hong Kong a year ago. The administration cited the risk of electronic surveillance without warrants and of being compelled to surrender corporate and customer data to the government.
The Treasury Department also added seven Chinese officials working in China’s main government office in Hong Kong to a sanctions list that already includes many leading officials in the territory. The move blocks any assets in the U.S. financial system and puts U.S. citizens on notice not to deal with them.
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