Decision to withdraw extradition Bill was by Hong Kong government, with Beijing's support: Carrie Lam

Decision to withdraw extradition Bill was by Hong Kong government, with Beijing's support: Carrie Lam

Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam addresses a news conference in Hong Kong
Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam reacts at the end of a news conference in Hong Kong, China September 5, 2019. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

HONG KONG: A day after announcing the withdrawal of the extradition Bill, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said that the decision was made by the Hong Kong government, with Beijing's backing.

"The decision is one of the Hong Kong SAR government, in the same way the Bill was introduced and taken forward by the Hong Kong SAR government," she said at a press conference on Thursday (Sep 5).

"Throughout the whole process, the Central People's Government took the position that they understood why we have to do it, they respected my view and they supported me all the way," she added.

"So whether it was in the early stages of processing the Bill and then the suspension of the Bill, and then withdrawing the Bill yesterday, it's the same position."

The Bill, which was first proposed in February, had sparked mass protests and plunged the Chinese-ruled city into its biggest political crisis in decades.

READ: Hong Kong protests - Key dates as peaceful rallies against extradition Bill turn to violent clashes

READ: Hong Kong demonstrators now have no excuse for violence, says Chinese paper

The withdrawal was one of the protesters' five demands, although many demonstrators and lawmakers said the move was too little, too late.

The four other demands are: Retraction of the word "riot" to describe rallies, release of all demonstrators, an independent inquiry into perceived police brutality and the right for Hong Kong people to choose their own leaders.

The official China Daily said on Thursday that the withdrawal of the Bill was an olive branch that leaves demonstrators with no excuse to continue violence.

During the press conference on Thursday, Lam was repeatedly questioned on why it took her so long to withdraw the Bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China despite increasingly violent protests, but she skirted the questions.

"It is not exactly correct to describe this as a change of mind," Lam replied, saying that she had previously announced the suspension of the Bill and called it "dead".

"So as far as the substance is concerned, there is simply no plan to take forward the Bill in light of the controversy," she added. 

READ: Explainer - How important is Hong Kong to the rest of China?

The decision, Lam said, came after receiving "a very pertinent piece of advice" from the people she had been holding dialogues with in the past two weeks.

The people, who came from different backgrounds and political positions, told her "that if the government wants to start a dialogue, the government should also take the initiative to provide a basis for a dialogue", she said.

"The withdrawal of the Bill to fully allay public concerns is one of those important basis for a dialogue."

READ: Commentary - Why Hong Kong protesters have tolerated the use of radical tactics

READ: Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announces formal withdrawal of extradition Bill - full English transcript

In her prepared speech on Thursday, the chief executive expressed hope that the withdrawal of the Bill and other measures proposed on Wednesday will help solve the city's political crisis.

She reiterated that the extradition Bill will be withdrawn with "no debate and no voting" and that authorities will "fully support" the Independent Police Complaints Council, which will have experts from the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

TEST AHEAD

There has, however, been little sign that Lam's concession will end demonstrations. 

Online forums used by protesters are filled with calls for new rallies - including plans on Saturday to disrupt transport links to the city's airport, a major regional aviation hub.

Skirmishes broke out in some districts including the working class Po Lam late on Wednesday after Lam's announcement, which came after a weekend of some of the most violent protests the city has seen in the past three months.

Police said a suspected petrol bomb was hurled at a luxury property in Kowloon district in the early hours of Thursday and the suspects fled on a motorbike. Local newspaper Apple Daily said the house belonged to Jimmy Lai, the newspaper's owner, who was in the property at the time. Lai is an outspoken critic of Beijing.

At a "citizens press conference" on Wednesday evening - a useful gauge of the youth-led wing on the frontlines at rallies - an unidentified woman wearing a mask and helmet rejected Lam's concession.

"If Carrie Lam had withdrawn the Bill two months ago, that may have been a quick fix," she said. "But applying a band-aid months later on to rotting flesh will simply not cut it."

READ: Our coverage of the Hong Kong protests

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Source: CNA/Agencies/jt(aj)

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