In a pre-recorded video message released Wednesday, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor formally withdrew the controversial extradition bill that ignited almost three months of protests.
“Incidents over these past two months have shocked and saddened Hong Kong people. 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,” said Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in her eight-minute video.
The withdrawal of the extradition bill means that the government has finally acceded to one of the five demands of the protesters.
With the withdrawal of the bill, the protesters have asked the government to heed to its other demands. These include investigating police conduct during the protests and granting amnesty to those who have been arrested.
Protesters have also asked that the protests should not be characterized or defined as riots. They are also demanding for universal suffrage in elections for the city’s chief executive officer and legislature by 2020.
The decision of Hong Kong’s leader has been met with some doubts by pro-democracy leaders.
“It is too little, too late. The focus now has completely shifted. Most people do not remember what the bill is about but are more concerned about the escalating violence and alleged police heavy-handedness against protesters,” said 2014 Umbrella Movement leader, Joshua Wong.
A pro-democracy lawmaker, Claudia Mo, has also reacted to Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s announcement. Mo has said that protesters are determined that all of their demands be fulfilled.
“She has been fast asleep these three months, this is just absurd. The scars and wounds are still bleeding, and she thinks she can just use some garden hose to put out the hill fire. That is not acceptable,” expressed Mo.
As recalled, the Hong Kong protests were sparked by a bill that would allow local authorities to detain and extradite those who are wanted in territories that Hong Kong that does not have any extradition agreements with including Taiwan and China.
The bill would put the people of Hong Kong and its visitors under mainland China’s jurisdiction, overrunning the autonomy of the region and the rights and freedom of its citizens.
Demonstrations in Hong Kong started in March and April. On June 9, a massive number of protesters took to the streets. On the day the bill was scheduled for second reading, June 2, demonstrators were met by riot police and were subjected to tear gas and rubber bullet attacks.
On June 15, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor suspended the bill but refused to fully withdraw it.
“After repeated internal deliberations over the last two days, I now announce that the government has decided to suspend the legislative amendment exercise, restart our communication with all sectors of society, do more explanation work and listen to different views of society,” Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said in her June 15 session with the media.
Following her declaration to suspend the extradition bill, over a million people in Hong Kong marched. This was the largest protest to date.
Protests have continued in Hong Kong throughout the summer with some cases of violence between the police force, activists, pro-China triad members, and residents in different areas in the city.
On July 21, members of the Yuen Long mob attacked protesters and passersby which then intensified the tensions in the city.
Violent police operations also prompted about 1.7 million people to attend a rally in Hong Kong condemning the brutality of the police forces last August 18.
The September 4 withdrawal announcement came as a surprise to some. Just last week, Reuters reported that Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor proposed the full withdrawal of the bill to bring some calm to the tension in Hong Kong. However, this was rejected by the central government.
Following the news of the withdrawal, the Hang Seng Index (HSI) recorded its strongest performance of the year. It gained nearly 4%, closing at 26,523 points.
Since the protests started, Hong Kong’s stock market has been on a decline, falling about 15% since its peak back in April 2019.