If China thought that temporarily withdrawing its extradition bill would quiet Hong Kong’s residents, they got a rude awakening yesterday. Even with chief executive Carrie Lam apologizing over the bill — but pointedly not abandoning it — people filled the streets in another record-breaking protest. This time they want Lam’s head as well as an end to Beijing’s interference:
The city’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, officially suspended passage of the bill Saturday, following violent clashes between protesters and police earlier in the week. Many had expected the pause and the heavy use of force by police would sap numbers Sunday.
They could not have been more wrong.
Organizers said around 2 million people joined the march, exceeding last week’s 1.03 million. A sea of black-clad protesters filled the streets between the starting point in Victoria Park and the legislature in Admiralty. It took more than eight hours for the last group of marchers to reach the end point.
Many of those in attendance said they felt compelled to march Sunday after seeing images of bloodied protesters at previous demonstrations. Many carried signs with the slogan “Stop Killing Us” and “Civilian, No Headshot Please.” Others carried bunches of white flowers to honor a man who died after falling from a building Saturday.
By coincidence, a leader of the 2014 protests against Lam’s puppet government just got released from prison — and he’s not planning on staying quiet:
Hong Kong protesters are taking to the streets in historic numbers, demanding the resignation of its embattled leader. pic.twitter.com/CM5MdBzGmt
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) June 17, 2019
Hello world and hello freedom. I have just been released from prison. GO HONG KONG!! Withdraw the extradition bill. Carrie Lam step down. Drop all political prosecutions!
— Joshua Wong 黃之鋒 (@joshuawongcf) June 17, 2019
More strikes are called for today, but so far Beijing’s not budging. Or at least that’s what Lam’s administration hopes:
Beijing will not let Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, step down even if she wanted to, a senior city government official close to her said on Monday, adding that a divisive extradition law she delayed on the weekend was effectively withdrawn. …
“She’s appointed by the central government, so for her to step down requires a very high level of considered discussion and deliberation at the mainland level,” the official said.
Lam’s departure now would only exacerbate the crisis for Beijing, the source said.
“It would create more sorts of problems than it solves, at all sorts of levels.”
Some troubles are worse than others, however. Yesterday, organizers claim that two million people marched through Hong Kong to protest Lam’s continuing presence. That’s two out of every seven people in the city. That level of unrest is simply unsustainable, and with Joshua Wong out of prison, it’s likely to get stronger than weaker as long as Lam remains in office. Police are already starting to get nervous, and they may not be able to contain these crowds if they grow any further.
That means China will be stuck with two options. The first is the military option the Soviets chose with Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, which would be disastrous for Beijing internationally. It would likely kill the Hong Kong golden goose, too, as foreign investors flee. The second is to replace Lam with another puppet, one that moves a little more wisely, in order to deflate the opposition in Hong Kong.
Neither option will be particularly palatable to Beijing, but the latter would end up being the least disruptive. If the protests continue, Lam’s value will be just this side of zero anyway. Better to start over and turn the heat up more slowly than to pour gasoline on a raging fire in your own house.