Uncertainty looms as Hong Kong protests drag into new week
Hundreds of protesters remained in the streets of Hong Kong on Monday morning as the new work week began.
Cars were able to pass and most roads largely returned to normal, a day after a massive outpouring of anger over a controversial extradition bill that would allow fugitives to be sent to China for trial.
Even though Chief Executive Carrie Lam caved in to pressure and suspended the passage of the bill on Saturday, critics of the proposal are calling for her resignation and demanding that the legislation be withdrawn completely.
The head of a local U.S. business group called the suspension of the bill a step in the right direction, but added that the whole idea needs to be completely scrapped.
“Of course, we would like to see this bill dropped,” Tara Joseph, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Monday, stressing that worries won’t be erased as long as the possibility of passage remains.
“The main thing is just the notion that people could be extradited to China — that’s the elephant in the room, that’s what people are overwhelmingly concerned about.”
Protesters in Hong Kong demonstrate on June 16, 2019 against an extradition bill that has since been suspended.
Carl Court | Getty Images
While the bill would allow extraditions to a number of jurisdictions including Taiwan, it is the inclusion of China that has stoked opposition due to worries that the people of Hong Kong may become entangled in the mainland’s legal system.
The civic group that organized Sunday’s demonstration, Civil Human Rights Front, claimed that close to 2 million people rallied in a “Black March” — in reference to demonstrators who were dressed in black — through the streets of the Asian financial hub. The organizers also claimed that slightly more than a million participated in a similar event exactly a week ago.
Hong Kong police, however, gave a much lower figure. By their estimates, some 338,000 people thronged the streets on Sunday, while demonstrations a week ago drew crowds of 240,000 at its peak.
Streets that were packed with marchers yesterday were largely cleared Monday, though what appeared to be less than a thousand were seen on a street outside the the local government’s office where they were addressed by a lawmaker before moving away.
Lam, Hong Kong’s top official, shelved the bill indefinitely, allowing more time for dialogue with its opponents. But demonstrators fear she won’t give up and will eventually push for its passage.
“But there are other aspects of it,” added Joseph. It’s the erosion, or the sense of erosion, of “one country, two systems,” that concerns people.
Joseph was referring to the framework under which Hong Kong, a former British colony with its own legal system and civil service, was guaranteed a high degree of control over its own affairs for at least 50 years when Britain ceded control to China on July 1, 1997.
A poster put up by protesters in Hong Kong demonstrating against a legislation that would allow extraditions to China.
Yolande Chee | CNBC
In an attempt to dampen anger, Lam issued an apology via a statement from a government spokesperson on Sunday night as the protests continued.
The spokesperson said that Lam “admitted” that the government had caused “disappointment and grief” to Hong Kong’s people. “The chief executive apologized to the people of Hong Kong for this and pledged to adopt a most sincere and humble attitude to accept criticisms and make improvements in serving the public,” the statement added.
But it appeared to backfire. The Civil Human Rights Front denounced the apology, and said that its delivery via press release was a “total insult” to protesters.
— CNBC’s Shirley Tay, Vivian Kam and Yolande Chee contributed to this report