Has Beijing’s extradition bill in Hong Kong reached the go-through-its-pockets-and-look-for-loose-change stage, or is it only mostly dead? Carrie Lam, the enclave’s embattled chief executive, claims that “the bill is dead,” but Lam thus far has not formally withdrawn it. She told Hong Kong citizens, a sizable number of them in the streets demanding her resignation, that the government will not attempt to pass it again.
They’re skeptical, to say the least, and so is CNN:
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Tuesday said a bill that would allow extraditions to mainland China is effectively “dead” and conceded that her government’s work on the issue was a “complete failure,” responding to sustained public anger over a proposal that sparked massive protests in the city over recent weeks.
Still, she declined to formally withdraw the bill from the legislative agenda or meet protesters’ other demands, such as an independent inquiry into police use of force in quelling demonstrations.
The Hong Kong government has “put a stop to” the legislative process around the bill, she said, dismissing fears that the legislature will restart the process at a later date.
“I reiterate here, there is no such plan,” she said. “The bill is dead.”
If there is no such plan, why won’t Lam formally withdraw the bill? After all, if Lam is truly acting autonomously, there’s no reason to keep the proposal on the books if it is truly dead. Lam claims that it’s a “practical” choice that will allow Hong Kong to “move ahead,” but it seems highly impractical to have this hanging over Lam’s administration, especially with two out of every seven residents in the streets over the outrage generated by the bill.
Lam also said that she needs “time and room to take Hong Kong out of the current impasse,” which sounds more like Lam’s “practical choice” in dealing with Beijing. It extends the possibility for the communist regime to revisit its desire to have a legal mechanism to go after dissenters from the Xi Jinping cult of personality. That’s precisely why protesters aren’t going to trust Lam to keep the bill dead, and why they want her resignation.
Even Beijing seems to be getting the message — at least in the short term. Lam’s Cabinet member and pro-Beijing politician Regina Ip wrote an op-ed in one of the regime’s media mouthpieces that rips Lam’s leadership, meaning that her days may be numbered anyway:
The authorities in Hong Kong, supposedly China’s most international city, lag miserably behind ministries of the People’s Republic in deploying a spokesman to engage the media daily. The government pleads difficulty in finding the right person, and in the time and resources required to train someone. But 16 years after the national security legislation debacle, the first major communication failure, has the government not learned its lessons?
Responses by senior officials to criticism of the extradition bill have been missing in the international media since the onset of the controversy. The gaps have been filled by Executive Council members and legislators not afraid to take on the foreign media. What kind of government declines to talk to the foreign media, given the magnitude of the international attention the bill has provoked? …
Since the government’s traumatic retreat on June 15, the chief executive has given the impression that she is hunkering down in her bunkers, whether to avoid more flak or to excite more antipathy. Whatever the reason, Hong Kong is seen drifting, if not overwhelmed by powerful torrents of public discontent and anger.
That’s not exactly an expression of full confidence. It may be why Lam is desperate to hold onto the bill as leverage with Beijing to save her own career. It certainly provides some context for her pleas for “time and room,” although it would seem that it’s not Hong Kong‘s place in the current impasse that worries her most.
That should make the decision easy in Beijing. The protesters want Lam booted, and it appears that the party leaders no longer see much use in her either. They could take this moment to bring in entirely new leadership with a new agenda, hoping to retake momentum from the street protests. Ip had a thought or two about that as well:
The government needs a radical shake-up, both in its mindset, and its policies and systems, or Hong Kong’s days as a vibrant, and above all, safe, city of Asia will be numbered.
The Washington Post thinks that’s a call for democratic reform. Given Beijing’s current direction back into Maoist lockstep, it sounds much more ominous for the long-term prospects of autonomy in Hong Kong.