Even China has a limit to bad publicity, it seems. China had attempted to push changes to extradition in Hong Kong that would have given Beijing carte blanche to seize anyone in the autonomous enclave, even people just passing through it. Sustained and massive protests have derailed those efforts — for now, anyway:
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Saturday indefinitely delayed a proposed law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, in a dramatic retreat after anger over the bill triggered the city’s biggest and most violent street protests in decades. …
“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 told a news conference.
In her first public appearance or comments since Wednesday, she said there was no deadline, effectively suspending the process indefinitely.
Political opponents called for the bill to be scrapped completely. Protest organizers said they would go ahead with another rally on Sunday to demand Lam step down.
The about-face was one of the most significant political turnarounds under public pressure by the Hong Kong government since Britain returned the territory to China in 1997, and it threw into question Lam’s ability to continue to lead the city.
The proposed law would have been so broad as to make vulnerable even foreigners just connecting through Hong Kong to flights elsewhere, at least theoretically. It would have destroyed any sense of autonomy in Hong Kong; anyone who didn’t toe Xi Jingping’s line would have found themselves on the fast train to Beijing, pour encourager les autres. The people of Hong Kong knew exactly what this bill would do, and what exactly it was intended to do.
Lam wouldn’t have sounded the retreat without orders from Beijing. She’s too much their toady to suddenly discover a backbone, as I noted here earlier. Sure enough, China issued a supportive statement of Lam’s action, but warned against further violence:
The central government in Beijing has expressed its support, respect and understanding for Hong Kong’s decision to suspend an extradition bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China to face trial, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported on Saturday. …
The central government also condemned violent acts in Hong Kong and supported the former British colony’s police, Xinhua said.
Most of the violence thus far seems to be coming from the police, which used teargas and rubber bullets to disperse the highly embarrassing crowds. Estimates of the size ran over a million protesters, which would mean that one out of every seven residents had gone to the streets to demand an end to the extradition bill. China faced a humiliating revolt brought on by a big miscalculation about the people of Hong Kong, who had launched similar protests about Beijing’s encroachment five years earlier.
Of course, they faced a similarly embarrassing protest 30 years ago in Tiananmen Square. They put that one down brutally, sending tanks into the protest against unarmed citizens, resulting in a death toll that may run into the thousands. What’s different this time? The Tiananmen protest took place in Beijing itself, for one thing, where China can easily call on that level of force. Hong Kong is a different situation, made even more singular because of the treaties that turned sovereignty back over to Beijing. The UK and the EU reminded China of its obligations publicly and energetically over the past week in order to signal that they were watching developments very carefully. A military seizure of Hong Kong could have touched off the kind of conflict China doesn’t need at the moment, especially while fighting a trade war with the US already and dealing with a slowing economy.
China must think it a better strategy to wait for the world to lose interest in the issue. The protesters have an answer for that, too:
Hong Kong activists say they’re not satisfied with a decision to shelve unpopular extradition legislation and still plan a mass protest on Sunday.
A leader of the Civil Human Rights Front, Jimmy Sham, called on Chief Executive Carrie Lam to withdraw the bill entirely and to apologize for the use of potentially deadly force by police in clashes earlier this week.
Lam defended the use of tear gas, rubber bullets and other measures by police as necessary and said she wanted no more violence.
Lam was trying to burn down the village to save it … for Xi. The villagers had other ideas, and they still do.