Hong Kong withdraws extradition bill. Will protesters notice?

Carrie Lam and the leadership in Hong Kong very much want all of these disruptive protesters to just go home and allow life to settle back to normal in their city. Will this do the trick? The whole mess started because of a proposed extradition bill (desired by China) that turned out to be wildly unpopular. In the face of the protests, the bill was put on hold, but that didn’t settle down the crowds at all. Now, after months of unrest, the bill has been formally withdrawn. (Associated Press)

Hong Kong authorities on Wednesday withdrew an unpopular extradition bill that sparked months of chaotic protests that have since morphed into a campaign for greater democratic change.

“I now formally announce the withdrawal of the bill,” Secretary for Security John Lee told the city’s legislature. Pro-democracy lawmakers immediately tried to question him but he refused to respond and the assembly’s president said the rules did not allow for debate.

The long-expected scrapping of the bill was overshadowed by the drama surrounding the release from a Hong Kong prison of the murder suspect at the heart of the extradition case controversy.

On the surface, the current dispute is centered on the case of an accused murderer, but it gets bogged down because of a lack of formal relations between Hong Kong and Taiwan. A 20-year-old man named Chan Tong-kai is accused of traveling to Taiwan with his pregnant girlfriend and murdering her there. (He’s pretty much admitted doing it and is willing to stand trial and face punishment.) But there is no formal extradition agreement between the two provinces and Hong Kong doesn’t even officially recognize the elected government of Taiwan.

The extradition bill might have alleviated the situation, but now it’s been pulled. Hong Kong has offered to allow Chan to fly to Taiwan and turn himself in, but Taiwanese authorities want him arrested first and delivered in custody, presumably to keep the rest of the passengers on his flight safe. There doesn’t seem to be a solution to this log jam at the moment.

The bigger question is whether or not the official removal of the extradition bill will be enough to appease the protesters and send them back to their homes. That seems like a dubious proposition to me. The current movement erupting in the streets may have started over opposition to the bill, but it’s now grown into something much larger. The protesters are calling for more freedom and real democracy with less control by China. The sight of people waving American flags in the streets is no doubt infuriating the Chinese and they weren’t too thrilled with the situation to begin with.

The reality is that China is calling most of the shots. If Carrie Lam can’t figure out a way to put a lid on these demonstrations, she may find Beijing removing her from her position and replacing her with someone who will take an iron fist to the protesters without bothering with a velvet glove. And if the Chinese military suddenly moves in, dreams of a free, democratic Hong Kong will probably disappear the same way the pro-democracy movement in mainland China did after Tiananmen Square.