Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s leader has announced that she is fully withdrawing the bill that allowed extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China and sparked three months of protests.

The extradition bill quickly drew criticism as soon as it was introduced in April. Opponents said that allowing criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China would undermine Hong Kong’s judicial independence and may be used to intimidate and silence Beijing’s critics.

Lam suspended the bill in June, after more than a million people marched against it and surrounded Hong Kong’s legislature.

But the suspension did not satisfy the protestors who demanded the bill be completely withdrawn. They argued that a suspended bill could be rushed through by the government at a later date, but if the bill was fully withdrawn it would have to go back to the beginning of the legislative process.

Since June, the protests have become increasingly violent. Petrol bombs, rubber bullets and tear gas have been used regularly between increasingly radicalised activists and riot police.

However, the withdrawal of the extradition bill is just one of the protestors’ five demands. The remaining four are to set up an independent inquiry into police brutality, to withdraw the characterisation by the authorities in Honk Kong of the protests as riots, to release those protestors that have been arrested and to implement universal suffrage in Hong Kong.

However, Lam has stopped well short of meeting all their demands and it is unclear if her actions will be enough. As well as withdrawing the extradition bill she has announced that two new members will be appointed to the existing Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) and that there should be more direct communication with community leaders to get to the bottom of why so many people are unhappy.

In her speech Lam acknowledged that the protests were not just about the bill.

“We must find ways to address the discontent in society and look for solutions. After more than two months of social unrest, it is obvious to many that this discontentment extends far beyond the bill,” Lam said in a video statement Wednesday evening.

She stressed that she wanted to “replace conflicts with conversations” and that “no matter what discontentment the people have towards the government or society, violence is not the way to resolve problems.” 

Lam’s U-Turn May Be Too Little Too Late

Michael Tien, a pro-Beijing law maker, said that he was sceptical about if the withdrawal of the bill would be enough to satisfy the protesters.

“I believe the withdrawal may be too late because this movement has become more than the bill,” he said.

Regina IP, also a pro-Beijing law maker, said that while withdrawing the bill may not pacify everyone it may “clear remaining doubt in the minds of some of the peaceful protestors”.

But those behind the protests are much less optimistic. Pro-democracy politician Wu-Chi-Wai dismissed Lam’s climb down as “fake” and the activist Joshua Wong said it was “too little too late”.

Amnesty International struck a more measured tone and said that while the bill’s withdrawal was welcome, there also needs to be an independent investigation into “unnecessary and excessive use of force by police.”

There has been much speculation that Lam did not have the authority to withdraw the bill herself or meet any of the protestors demands because Beijing was really in charge. Some people have suggested that she may now have been given the green light to get rid of the bill to try and prove that Hong Kong is still able to make autonomous decisions.

Many people will also be wondering why it took three months of protests and violence on the streets of Hong Kong for the bill to finally be withdrawn.

Adam Ni, a researcher into Chinese affairs at Macquarie University in Sydney, said he thinks Lam will have to make more concessions if she is to avoid further protests.

 “She will have to take further steps, such as setting up an independent inquiry into police conduct. If she does not take further steps, then we can expect the protests to continue,” he said.

Picture from CNN

Edward Cowley