Hong Kong's chief executive Carrie Lam announced Wednesday that her government is formally withdrawing a controversial extradition bill, a major concession to the hundreds of thousands of protesters who have been flooding the streets of the city in recent months.
But protesters say the move is “too little, too late.”
The announcement came in a pre-recorded video published after Lam met with leading political figures in Hong Kong, including the Executive Council and the Hong Kong deputies to the National People’s Congress, at the Government House.
Lam addressed the demands made by the protesters, saying the government responses have been “made with full consideration of different constraints and circumstances.”
Lam outlined four steps her government is planning to take to address protesters’ concerns:
As well as withdrawing the extradition bill, she is setting up a commission to investigate society’s ills, allow the public to directly air their grievances with her office, and support a police-led inquiry into the violence in recent weeks,
But, in a chilling message to protesters, Lam warned: “It is our foremost priority now is to end violence, to safeguard the rule of law and to restore order and safety in society. As such, the Government has to strictly enforce the law against all violent and illegal acts.”
Some now fear that Lam’s concession to protesters will be used to take more drastic actions against the protesters.
“If this does not put an end to the protests in Hong Kong, it will still make it easier for the authorities to use even more repressive methods to crackdown on the activist protesters,” Steve Tsang, director of London’s SOAS China Institute, told VICE News.
The controversial bill that sparked the last 13 weeks of protests would have allowed the extradition of suspects on a case-by-case basis to mainland China, where human rights abuses are rife and death sentences common.
Lam suspended the bill in July, after the city had been rocked by four consecutive weeks of protests.
Wednesday’s announcement follows three months of increasingly tense and violent protests that have become a wider challenge to hold fully democratic and open elections, amid growing concerns about the influence Beijing exerts over Hong Kong.
While the move has pleased markets, with the Hang Seng Index shooting up over 1,000 points on the news, pro-democracy protesters and lawmakers have already denounced the move as “too little, too late.”
“Carrie Lam's response comes after 7 lives sacrificed, more than 1,200 protestors arrested, in which many are mistreated in police station,” Joshua Wong, who helped lead the 2014 Umbrella Movement protests, tweeted moments before the announcement was made.
Wong is one a number of activists who have been arrested or attacked in recent weeks as the Hong Kong government sought to quash the protests.
The activist claimed in a series of tweets that Lam’s “notorious track record” means no one will believe what she says, and warned the watching world not to be tricked by this announcement into thinking anything had changed.
As well as demanding the withdrawal of the extradition bill, protesters want authorities to stop the prosecution of protesters, stop referring to the protesters as rioters, hold an independent inquiry into police misconduct, and allow free elections.
“Just formally withdrawing the bill is very little and very late and is not enough — but it's a start,” Emily Lau, a pro-democracy lawmaker, told VICE News. “Apart from withdrawing the bill, Carrie Lam should respond to the demand for setting up an independent Commission of inquiry to look into the months of protests and unrest and police brutality.”
Lau added that the reaction of the markets “shows the business community, many of whom are from Mainland China, are anxious for good news that will boost the sickly economy.
Ultimately, however, the protesters are seeking major political reform in Hong Kong, to allow them to elect a government “by universal and equal suffrage,” Lau said.
Cover: - In this Sept. 3, 2019, file photo, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks during a press conference in Hong Kong. Hong Kong's government has a meeting scheduled on Wednesday, Sept. 4 amid speculation leader Carrie Lam may formally withdraw an extradition bill as protesters have demanded. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)