Retreat: Hong Kong leader formally withdraws extradition bill

Had Carrie Lam taken this action three months ago, Hong Kong’s chief executive might have been hailed as someone of political courage. After clinging to Beijing’s extradition bill through weeks of protests and violence, her statement today looks like a long-delayed retreat. Lam finally offered to formally withdraw the bill that would have put everyone in Hong Kong at the mercy of Beijing’s police, as well as three other concessions to the protesters demanding democracy and full autonomy from China’s communists:

Protesters are already declaring Lam’s concessions insufficient. They don’t want a dialogue with their oppressors — they want an independent investigation into their abuses:

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced Wednesday she would formally withdraw a bill allowing extradition to mainland China to “allay public concerns,” meeting the least difficult of five protester demands amid a deepening political crisis.

Lam, however, stopped short of announcing a fully independent investigation into the crisis, including the police response and use of force — and many are already rejecting her concessions as too little and too late. …

Her other steps included beefing up Hong Kong’s independent police watchdog, known as the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC), and ordering it to look into the force’s handling of protests and organized crime-linked attacks against protesters in July.

Lam said she would also reach out to the community to start a “direct dialogue” with people and task experts including academics to independently “examine and review society’s deep-seated problems and to advise the government on finding solutions.”

The IPCC is considered independent in name only, as the Washington Post later explains. Protesters believe Lam has stocked it with her loyalists, who are then also beholden to Beijing for their positions. Oddly, the regime also sees the IPCC as insufficient, but for its own reasons. The South China Morning Post, considered a semi-official voice of Beijing, editorialized two weeks ago that the IPCC doesn’t have the authority to conduct the kind of inquiry needed to get to the bottom of the unrest.

Of course, they see the bottom as … well

The IPCC announced on July 2 a proactive fact-finding study, stating, “The reason for the study is that the IPCC is unlikely to be able to effectively discharge its statutory functions without a complete picture of the public order events, where all stakeholders, the public and the police, have had the opportunity to tell their side of the story.” There was no suggestion in the IPCC’s August 16 announcement extending the scope of its work that the study was to become anything else. The study is, therefore, intended to provide no more than context to the complaints it is asked to monitor. It is not – and does not pretend to be – an investigation.

An inquiry may compel the attendance and examination of witnesses; the provision of data to the IPCC is voluntary. An inquiry is a judicial proceeding, the IPCC’s work is not. The findings of the study, limited as they will be to the conduct of some members of the police, cannot be relied upon as facts when the history of these tragic weeks comes to be written.

Finally, the IPCC will not study allegations of protesters’ criminal conduct, of foreign influence or funding, of the entrapment consequences of using police decoys or of how government’s neglect of duty to govern has placed police lives at risk. These are equally important questions which only an inquiry can satisfactorily answer.

Emphasis mine. Beijing is making it clear that they want prosecutions, not inquiries. Lam is therefore straddling two diametrically opposed positions and trying to find a middle ground where there likely isn’t one to be found.

Even if it’s three months late, though, the formal withdrawal is still a significant concession. It seems doubtful that Lam acted on her own to formally withdraw it; she must have gotten Beijing’s permission to make that concession. Although they have been bristling in the last couple of days about “final warnings,” the central government must be worried about global reaction to sending troops into Hong Kong. That’s a major gain for the protesters, even if it’s not overall victory.

Will that be enough? Had Lam just withdrawn it at the beginning, it would have been enough. After everything that’s happened over the last three months, the protesters are likely convinced that this is only a tactical retreat by Lam and Beijing. They must believe that Lam and Xi Jinping are trying to take the world’s eye off Hong Kong and bide their time for another try at the extradition bill. And … they’re almost certainly correct, which is why Beijing doesn’t want independent inquiries into their motives and tactics.