Will HK’s Protesters Accept Carrie Lam’s Concession?

06-Sep-2019 Intellasia | ForeignPolicy | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s besieged chief executive, has finally bowed to the demand that triggered the summer protest movement: In a televised statement broadcast on Wednesday, Lam said the government would withdraw an extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China. Protesters feared that the bill would be used against dissidents and saw it as a sign of Beijing’s creeping influence. While the bill was suspended in June, until now it remained technically alive in the city’s legislature.

Too little, too late? The formal withdrawal of the bill might have been enough to appease protesters back in June. But today it meets only one of the protesters’ five demands of the government, which now include walking back the use of the word “riot” to describe the protests, dropping charges against protesters, an independent investigation into police brutality, and universal suffrage. Lam’s move is unlikely to bring an immediate halt to the protests, though it could take some of the wind out of the activists’ sails if ordinary Hong Kongers see it as a major concession.

Struggle and sacrifice. Don’t expect too much retreat. Young Hong Kongers are, ironically, the heirs of a great Chinese tradition of student revolutionaries. That legacy goes back to the May 4 Movement, which grew out of a student rebellion on May 4, 1919, and encompasses some of the fiercest mobs of the Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen protests in 1989. More than anything else, that tradition values sincerity, and young protesters see their elders as treacherous and hollow. Lam’s last-ditch move is likely to reinforce those feelings.

The mainland reaction. After weeks of Chinese media describing the Hong Kong protesters as rioters and terrorists, mainland commentators reacted poorly to news that Lam had withdrawn the bill. Thousands of comments criticising her decision have been deleted from Chinese social media, in line with the common practice of censoring dissent. Other commenters are already asking what could be a threatening question for the Chinese Communist Party: “If Hong Kongers can get what they want by protesting, why can’t we?”



Category: Hong Kong

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