In what appears to be a "stunning" and "unprecedented" victory for the leaders of Hong Kong's massive protest movement (and a similarly unexpected capitulation from the city's leaders), City Executive Carrie Lam announced on Saturday that her government would suspend the hated extradition bill "indefinitely," leaving it unclear whether the legislation would ever be brought back.
The SCMP previewed the decision on Friday, but even then it seemed hard to believe, given the immense pressure Beijing has applied to Lam and her government to pass the bill, which would allow Hong Kong to extradite people who are wanted on the mainland. But the plan has faced unprecedented opposition both in Hong Kong and the US, where Congress has threatened to pass legislation diminishing Hong Kong's status as an "independent" territory.
Lam has run the city since being installed by Beijing in 2017. The last popular protest movement in the country, the so-called 'Umbrella' movement of 2014, failed to stop Beijing from effectively pre-screening candidates for the city's leadership.
Though it has been indefinitely suspended, Lam made it clear that she wasn't killing the bill, and that it would be re-considered some day. She apologized for the rollout of the bill, and said that its benefits had not been clearly communicated to the public.
"I believe that we cannot withdraw this bill, or else society will say that this bill was groundless," Mrs. Lam said at a news conference.
Lam said she felt “sorrow and regret” that she had failed to convince the public that it was needed, and pledged to listen to more views.
"We will adopt the most sincere and humble attitude to accept criticisms and make improvements," Lam said.
According to the NYT, city leaders hope that indefinitely halting the extradition bill might cool public anger and avoid more violence in the streets. However, organizers of the protest movement made it clear that suspending the bill wasn't good enough, and that a demonstration scheduled for Sunday was still on.
"Postponement is temporary. It’s just delaying the pain," said Claudia Mo, a democratic lawmaker. "This is not good enough, simply not right. We demand a complete scrapping of this controversial bill."
"We can’t accept it will just be suspended," Minnie Li, a lecturer with the Education University of Hong Kong who joined a hunger strike this past week, said on Saturday morning. "We demand it to be withdrawn. The amendment itself is unreasonable. Suspension just means having a break and will continue later. What we want is for it to be withdrawn. We can’t accept it."
Above all, the city fears that the violence will lead to a protester's death, creating a martyr for the cause.
Hong Kongers fear that the legislation, which would make it easier for Hong Kong to send suspects to jurisdictions where the city has no extradition treaty. Millions fear that, under the new law, they could be prosecuted in China's Communist Party-controlled courts. Many also questioned the special treatment that the bill received, as it moved through the city's legislative process at alarming speed.
The bill would make it easier for Hong Kong to send people suspected of crimes to jurisdictions with which the city has no extradition treaty, including mainland China. Many people in Hong Kong, a semiautonomous territory with far more civil liberties than the mainland has, fear that the legislation would put anyone in the city at risk of being detained and sent to China for trial by the country’s Communist Party-controlled courts.
The bill had been moving through the legislative process with unusual speed, and legal experts who raised concerns about that said it would have to be withdrawn in order to address those worries. Otherwise, voting on it could restart at any time, at the discretion of the head of the legislature, which is controlled by pro-Beijing lawmakers, these experts said.
More than a million people marched against the bill last Sunday, according to protest leaders, the vast majority of them peacefully. That was followed by street clashes on Wednesday, as the police used tear gas and rubber bullets on demonstrators.
The decision to pull the bill comes after Carrie Lam met with her mainland bosses across the border in Shenzen on Friday. So far, Lam is refusing to resign, as the protesters have demanded. The Chinese government said it understood and respected Lam's decision to pull the bill. Yesterday, Chinese government summoned a top official from the American embassy to the foreign minister to demand that Washington stop interfering in the situation with Hong Kong.