HK’s top officials vow to do better and urge public to give them another chance as government seeks to recover from extradition bill crisis

25-Jun-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong’s top officials have broken days of silence over unprecedented youth protests against the now-suspended extradition bill to appeal for a chance to rebuild public trust, even as the government’s biggest political ally openly questioned why they would not simply declare the unpopular legislation withdrawn altogether to ease lingering concerns.

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, along with the financial, labour, health and development secretaries, promised on Sunday the city’s governing team would start over and do better, having learned from its mistake in trying to bulldoze ahead with the bill and underestimating the extent of public opposition to it.

But, in a significant climbdown after first backing the government’s push to change the city’s extradition laws, the head of the biggest political party and pro-establishment ally, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, suggested officials consider completely withdrawing the bill and opening a dialogue with opponents.

“From what has happened recently, it seems this response is really not very practical,” Starry Lee Wai-king said on a television show.

Protesters besiege Hong Kong police headquarters in Wan Chai for 15 hours on Friday. (South China Morning Post)

Protesters besiege Hong Kong police headquarters in Wan Chai for 15 hours on Friday. (South China Morning Post)

“Officials at all levels of the government know the relevant work [on the bill] has stopped, and many people have asked, ‘Why insist [on saying it has only been suspended]?’”

Former minister Frederick Ma Si-hang, who said Hong Kong was now more polarised than during the 1967 riots which killed 51 people, urged the government to pay more attention to dissatisfaction among the youth in particular.

Cheung, the No 2 official, wrote in his official blog: “The chief executive has offered her sincere apology over the government’s deficiencies in amending the law… Hong Kong needs to restore calm as soon as possible. Let’s look and move forward together, restore mutual trust.”

Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po, in his blog, said the government would make “serious improvements”.

“Officials have sincerely apologised… I hope you will let us start over,” he wrote.

Names on a petition to completely withdraw the bill, signed by retired lawmakers and ex-officials, including former security chief Peter Lai Hing-ling, rose from 20 to 32.

“The government’s refusal to withdraw the bill is fuelling suspicion and instability,” their statement read.

There was still no sign of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor for a fifth straight day. The city’s leader, a devout Catholic, did not attend Sunday mass.

Father Thomas Law Kwok-fai, parish priest of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church, said Lam attended frequently but had not visited for weeks. He would not reveal the last time she was there, saying this was her private life.

A member of the congregation said Lam had not been to church for three or four weeks.

Lam and her justice and security ministers have apologised for the mishandling of the bill, which would have allowed the transfer of fugitives to mainland China and other jurisdictions it lacks an extradition deal with.

Protesters are insisting Lam scrap the bill, drop prosecution plans against arrested protesters and order an independent inquiry into the use of force by police during violent clashes outside the legislature on June 12.

Sources previously told the Post Lam was not expected to have any public engagements until July 1, as Beijing would want Hong Kong to remain stable ahead of the widely anticipated meeting between presidents Xi Jinping and Donald Trump on the sidelines of the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan next Friday and Saturday.

Officials have sincerely apologised… I hope you will let us start over in serving the people

Paul Chan, financial secretary

The backlash against the bill escalated into an unprecedented protest on Friday when thousands of mostly young opponents laid siege to police headquarters in Wan Chai for 15 straight hours, demanding accountability for what they labelled as police brutality on June 12.

In an internal memo to the force on Saturday, Commissioner of Police Stephen Lo Wai-chung said decisions during the operation were “made with public interest and officers’ well-being in mind”.

“We understand that officers might be worried or suffer from tremendous stress both physically and mentally,” the memo read. “I also feel immensely proud of officers’ selfless contributions and endurance in this operation.”

Lo thanked frontline officers for their “tenacity, devotion, loyalty and professionalism”.

While pro-establishment politicians remained supportive of Lam’s decision to suspend the bill, two civil service unions on Saturday urged legislator Alice Mak Mei-kuen to come clean over whether she swore at the chief executive during a closed-door meeting on her decision to pause the passage of the bill, and if so, apologise.

Mak has yet to respond to requests for comment.

Cheung Chor-yung, a political scientist at City University, said the officials’ statements showed the government was desperate for society to calm down.

“It also highlights Lam’s inability to govern. Officials just do not know what else can be done, and how to respond to various suggestions made by community leaders. It seems some decisions can only be made with Beijing’s consensus,” he said.

Cheung also interpreted the civil service unions’ statement and Lee’s remarks on Sunday as a sign of the relationship between the government and pro-establishment camp hitting a new low.

“Lam put the camp on the spot and they are now in a very passive situation. Even lawmakers like Lee, who has been very supportive of Lam, have to speak up,” he said.

In a separate development, the extradition bill was brought up by two representatives of the Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students when they met Pope Francis at the Vatican on Saturday.

Chinese University student Erica Ng and Stephen Anthony Wong of the Caritas Institute of Higher Education told the pontiff about the recent protests in the city and asked him to continue to care about Hong Kong.

The students were in Rome to attend an international youth forum.



Category: Hong Kong

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