In an attempt to appease the millions of people who have clogged the streets of Hong Kong in recent weeks protesting a controversial extradition bill, the city’s chief executive made what’s been described as her most conciliatory remarks to date.
During a press conference on Tuesday, Carrie Lam said the widely-loathed legislation was “dead”; however, she again stopped short of announcing that the bill would be withdrawn.
Opposition figures expressed skepticism and slammed Lam’s comments as “too late.” Lawmaker Roy Kwong told Bloomberg that the bill, which would allow the extradition of people to mainland China, will remain a thorny issue for demonstrators until the government takes it off the table.
Opponents fear the bill will threaten Hong Kong’s rule of law and autonomy. Although part of China, the city has its own judiciary and a separate legal system.
“I urge Carrie Lam to immediately withdraw the bill,” Kwong said.
Lam, who was installed by Beijing as Hong Kong’s top official in 2017, said she wanted to erase any “lingering doubts about the government’s sincerity” regarding the legislation, which she indefinitely suspended last month after massive protests brought the city to a standstill.
“There are still ... worries whether the government will restart the process with the Legislative Council. So I reiterate here, there is no such plan. The bill is dead,” Lam said, adding that the government’s work on the legislation had been a “complete failure.”
Beijing previously expressed its full-throated support for Lam, saying in June that it supported her efforts “to govern according to law.”
Activist Joshua Wong took to Twitter to question why Lam continued to refuse to formally withdraw the bill:
Lam also refused to resign from her post, something demonstrators have been demanding for weeks.
“Stepping down is not an easy thing,” Lam said. “I still have the enthusiasm and responsibility to serve the public. I hope the public can give my team and myself a chance and space to implement a new administration style.”
Lam acknowledged that there “are some fundamental and deep-seated problems in Hong Kong society” and vowed to do better.
Claudia Mo, an opposition lawmaker, renounced Lam’s remarks as “too little, too late and too fake.”
“She thinks she can play with words and things can just die down. She really treats people with this parental attitude,” Mo told Bloomberg.
Protests over the extradition bill have been roiling Hong Kong for weeks and have shown no signs of slowing down. Organizers said up to 2 million people have attended these demonstrations to date, The New York Times reported on Sunday.
The rallies have been mostly peaceful, though some violence was reported. Last week, a group of protesters stormed the Legislative Council building, smashing glass windows and wreaking havoc on the property. Riot police also came under scrutiny for spraying tear gas, shooting rubber bullets and using batons against demonstrators and journalists.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets on Sunday to demand Lam’s resignation and the formal withdrawal of the extradition bill.
“I have participated in all of the protests already,” 57-year-old construction worker Alex Leung told the Times. “And I will continue to participate until this Hong Kong government responds to us and fulfills our demands.”