Written by Austin Ramzy and Elaine Yu
Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, said Wednesday that the government would withdraw a contentious extradition bill that ignited months of protests in the city, moving to quell the worst political crisis since the former British colony returned to Chinese control 22 years ago.
The move eliminates a major objection among protesters, but it was unclear if it would be enough to bring an end to intensifying demonstrations, which are now driven by multiple grievances with the government.
“Incidents over these past two months have shocked and saddened Hong Kong people,” she said in an eight-minute televised statement broadcast shortly before 6 p.m. “We are all very anxious about Hong Kong, our home. We all hope to find a way out of the current impasse and unsettling times.”
Her decision comes as the protests near their three-month mark and show little sign of abating, roiling a city known for its orderliness and hurting its economy.
Lam had suspended the bill in June and later said that it was “dead,” but demonstrators have long been suspicious of her government’s refusal to formally withdraw the bill and feared it could be revived at a later date.
Withdrawal of the bill, which would allow extradition to mainland China, has remained at the top of the list of protesters’ demands. But the list has grown to include an independent investigation into the police response, amnesty for arrested protesters and direct elections for all lawmakers and the chief executive.
Michael Tien, a moderate pro-Beijing lawmaker, said withdrawal alone might have been enough to calm the protests in mid-June. But since then, “with the accumulation of so much resentment, so many accusations and so many disputes,” the establishment of an independent inquiry “is 100 percent necessary,” Tien said.
Lam described the withdrawal as a step to initiate dialogue. She also said she would add two members to an existing police review board, but that step was far short of calls for an independent investigation.
Claudia Mo, a pro-democracy lawmaker, described Lam’s announcement as a “political performance.”
“That it took her three months to formally use the word withdraw is truly too little, too late,” Mo told reporters. “A big mistake has been made.”