Carrie Lam set to offer personal apology for mishandling of HK’s extradition bill

19-Jun-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 7:04 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong’s embattled leader is due to offer a second apology, this time in person, on Tuesday afternoon for her mishandling of a controversial extradition bill, but she is unlikely to accept demands to scrap it altogether.

All eyes are on how Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor will try to defuse a public backlash that has not eased despite her decision to suspend the bill, with tens of thousands of opponents sending her an ultimatum to meet their demands or face escalated protest action.

She is set to speak at 4pm.

A source familiar with the situation said Lam was ready to offer a personal apology on Tuesday afternoon, after her previous one in a written statement did not go far enough, but she was unlikely to pledge a full withdrawal of the bill.

She was also expected to address public concerns over the designation of last Wednesday’s clashes as a “riot”, reiterating the police commissioner’s clarification that most of the protesters were not involved in violent attacks on frontline officers.

“It will take a long time for Lam to rebuild her connections with society. It can be done, but it will take time,” the source said.

A political heavyweight also told the Post that Lam’s de facto cabinet had been flooded with advice to address Hongkongers’ grievances after the mass turnout, estimated at 2 million, at last Sunday’s protest.

Sources said Executive Council convenor Bernard Chan was asked to advise Lam to make a formal apology to the public and work with the cabinet to help Lam come up with the best way to show her sincerity.

The city’s senior officials have made deep public apologies in the past, one of the most memorable of which was former financial services and treasury chief Frederick Ma Si-hang bowing deeply in public to take the blame for the penny stocks fiasco of 2002, when a proposal to delist companies trading in stocks below HK$0.50 for 30 straight days sent them into a tailspin.

Protests outside the government headquarters and the legislature died down on Tuesday morning, a day after cabinet members appealed to the public to give Lam a second chance and made it clear that the suspension of the bill was effectively a withdrawal.

Commissioner of Police Stephen Lo Wai-chung also backed down on his earlier categorisation of last Wednesday’s clashes between his officers and anti-extradition protesters as a riot. He said only five people had been arrested for rioting so far.

Tens of thousands of protesters who are members of six Telegram chat groups issued a joint statement on Tuesday morning, calling on Lam and her government to respond to their demands by 5pm on Thursday.

In the statement circulated on the encrypted messaging platform, where 75,000 public members shared information about the anti-extradition bill protests, they listed four demands after carrying out a poll among themselves.

They called for the bill to be scrapped, prosecution of the protesters to be waived, police to be investigated for using excessive force, and the riot label to be fully withdrawn. Their demands initially included Lam’s resignation as well, but that was later dropped, without specific explanation.

The extradition bill, now suspended, would have allowed Hong Kong to surrender criminal suspects on a case-by-case basis to more than 170 jurisdictions it has yet to strike a long-term extradition agreement with, including mainland China.

Tian Feilong, associate professor at Beihang University’s law school in Beijing, said Lam would avoid annoying Beijing by not withdrawing the bill, while endorsing police commissioner Lo’s remarks that most of the protesters did not take part in rioting.

“In Beijing’s eyes, the Hong Kong police is the major force in maintaining the city’s prosperity and stability… It is also the chief executive’s responsibility to support the police,” he said.

Tian said the central government would not want Lam to pledge a full withdrawal of the bill, as it would seriously damage the authority of both the central and local governments.

“Beijing has supported the Hong Kong government in governing the city in accordance with the law, and in suspending the bill… If the bill is withdrawn, it would be difficult to carry out any local legislation or policy related to the mainland,” Tian said.

Professor Lau Siu-kai, a vice-chair of The Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, a semi-official mainland think tank, echoed Tian’s views.

“Beijing values the city’s police very much. The central and local governments would do their utmost to avoid hurting the police’s morale or reputation, or dragging it into any political conflicts,” he said.

Lau also said previously that suspending the bill was the best face-saving option Lam could stomach without being seen as caving in completely to pressure.

“Beijing has repeatedly voiced support for the changes to the extradition law, and if it is totally shelved, to the central government, it would be a total defeat,” he said.

“It would open a Pandora’s box of other demands and foreign forces could, through the opposition camp here, take effective control of Hong Kong’s governance.”


Category: Hong Kong

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