Finally caving to a key demand of Hong Kong protesters after months of intransigence, Chief Executive Carrie Lam this evening finally announced the formal withdrawal of the controversial extradition bill that plunged the city into its worst political crisis in decades.
In her remarks, Lam said the withdrawal was meant to “fully allay public concerns,” though based on online chatter, it remains to be seen if the withdrawal — which was only one of the protest movement’s five key demands — will be enough to pull Hong Kong out of its prolonged nosedive into unrest and sporadic violence.
Lam said the uproar over the bill had turned famously-stable Hong Kong into “an unfamiliar place,” and pointed to the deep polarization that gripped society over months of inaction by her administration as protests raged.
“Families and friends have been under stress, and arguments have flared,” she said, in an official translation of her remarks. “We have also seen abuse and bullying in some schools and on the internet.”
“Incidents over these past two months have shocked and saddened Hong Kong people,” she added. “We are all very anxious about Hong Kong, our home. We all hope to find a way out of the current impasse and unsettling times.
Finally, after a lengthy reiteration of her stances on protesters’ five demands, Lam, citing a need for a “common basis” on which to move forward, Lam said “the Government will formally withdraw the Bill in order to fully allay public concerns.”
Though she stopped short of launching an independent inquiry into police’s use of force against protesters — arguably protesters most urgent demand now, after weeks of heavy-handed crackdowns — she did announce the appointment of two new members to the government body currently tasked with investigating police complaints.
Lam again refused to budge on protesters’ other demands — which include amnesty for those arrested, and universal suffrage — though she did call on stakeholders to examine the deeper faults in Hong Kong society that she said were truly to blame for the recent unrest and to present their findings to the government.
“My team and I hope that the four actions just announced can help our society to move forward,” she concluded. “Let’s replace conflicts with conversations, and let’s look for solutions.”
Though the bill had been suspended since June following the city’s first major protests, Lam had stubbornly refused to fully withdraw it for months, allowing a peaceful protest movement to metastasize into one increasingly marred by violence.
The belated about-face came on the heels of recent media reports suggesting that Lam had actually proposed similar measures before, only to be shot down by Beijing, which forbade her not only from acceding to any of protesters’ demands, but also from resigning.
In spite of the surprise concession, however, the message this evening from Lam’s pan-democratic opponents was largely along the lines of “too little, too late.”
“Has she been asleep for three months?” asked pan-dem convenor Claudia Mo. “She’s had three months to meet five demands and she’s only met one.”
— Victor Ting (@VictorTing7) September 4, 2019
Meanwhile, based on reactions online this evening, it appeared unlikely that Lam’s U-turn would be enough in and of itself to put an end to what has become an exceptionally determined protest movement.
In response to an LIHKG thread asking whether protests should continue, one user appeared to sum up the general mood, saying, “No independent police inquiry means we won’t stop protesting.”
Over on Telegram, meanwhile, protester groups were flooded with the message “五大訴求，缺一不可”.
“Five demands, not one less.”