Following controversial reports that Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam would have left office if Beijing would have allowed it, the city-state’s chief executive surprised her detractors on Wednesday by announcing that she would formally withdraw the hated extradition bill.
Lam said the bill would be formally withdrawn as soon as Wednesday night (local time).
Well, the news wasn’t entirely unexpected: In a report published earlier in the day, the South China Morning Post previewed the news. Still, many remained skeptical.
Killing the extradition bill is only one of the five demands articulated by protesters, so it’s unlikely that meeting this one demand would end the protests entirely. But it will certainly help take the wind out of the movement’s sails.
Lam met with senior city leaders early Wednesday in the US (late in the afternoon Hong Kong time) before announcing her decision. Over the weekend, protesters, who have been reduced to a core group of dedicated marchers from the nearly 2 million people who took to the streets for a peaceful march early in the summer, engaged in some of the most violent struggles yet, clashing with police and vandalizing train stations and engaging in scuffles with the police.
Still: “This gesture to formally withdraw is a bid to cool down the atmosphere,” one source said. Another source added that the complete withdrawal of the extradition bill is the easiest way to turn down ongoing tensions.
Lam started to change her mind on the extradition bill two weeks ago after a meeting with city leaders: “The chief executive started to change her mind after meeting with 19 city leaders two weeks ago. She heeded their views on how to de-escalate the tensions.”
After meeting with 43 pro-establishment lawmakers Wednesday afternoon, Lam is expected to publicly announce her decision.
Aside from pulling the extradition bill, protesters have asked for the government to set up a commission to investigate police conduct during the protests, grant amnesty to those who have been arrested, stop describing the protests as “riots,” and restart the city’s stalled process of political reforms. They have also pushed for Lam to resign.
Earlier in the summer, Lam declared the withdrawal bill “dead”, but refused to formally remove it from the agenda. Unsatisfied with this, nearly 2 million peaceful demonstrators took to the streets the following day.
On social media, the initial reaction to reports of the bill’s withdrawal was skepticism, as few were convinced that Lam will follow through.
But markets have thrown caution to the wind, and Hong Kong stocks rallied sharply on the news, posting one of their best, if not the best, one day performance since the protests began.