After three months of escalating protests, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced on Wednesday the full withdrawal of the extradition bill that sparked the demonstrations. The reversal comes after Lam had made pervious, equivocal statements on the proposed law that would allow Beijing to request the extradition of Hong Kong citizens for trial on the mainland. The law was seen as an affront to Hong Kong’s semiautonomous status and an indication of Beijing’s creep into everyday political life in the former British colony. The protesters refused to stand down when Lam suspended the bill in June and demanded the proposal’s complete withdrawal as one of its conditions to end the protests that have gripped the city.
In a five-minute televised address Wednesday, Lam said she would “formally withdraw the bill in order to fully allay public concerns.” “After more than two months of social unrest it is obvious to many that discontentment extends far beyond the bill. It covers political, economic and social issues,” she said. The question that remains, however, is whether the concession is enough to satisfy the protesters whose grievances and demands have broadened significantly from the early days of summer into a sweeping call for entrenched democratic reforms, as well as an investigation into the police’s heavy-handed response to the protests.
“The focus since the beginning of July has completely shifted now to the confrontation between police and rioters, and how the public perceives it,” pro-Beijing lawmaker Michael Tien told the Washington Post. “The public is totally polarized, but it is no longer about the extradition bill.”
Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong indicated Lam’s spiking of the bill is, in fact, no longer enough to satisfy the demonstrators.
Despite her public statements defending the government’s approach, Lam was more reflective during a recent meeting with business leaders that was leaked to Reuters. “If I have a choice, the first thing is to quit, having made a deep apology,” she said. “We were not sensitive enough to feel and grasp (the) huge degree of fear and anxiety amongst people of Hong Kong vis-à-vis the mainland of China.” “For a chief executive to have caused this huge havoc to Hong Kong is unforgivable,” Lam added.
On Wednesday, Lam said the government “would introduce measures to address the cause of the last three months of mass protests, including appointing two new members of a police watchdog agency, holding a series of dialogues, and investigating social problems,” the Guardian reports. “In her short statement on Wednesday, Lam did not address the other demands and said she did not believe the government should establish an independent investigation committee to probe police behavior over the course of the protests, among the most important to demands to demonstrators.”