‘Give Us a Chance,’ Hong Kong’s Leader Appeals to the Public, Saying Extradition Bill Is Dead


HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s embattled leader urged the public on Tuesday to give her administration a chance to repair the damage caused by an unpopular extradition bill as she sought to assuage anger that has driven several huge protests and the storming of the city’s legislature in the past month.

Carrie Lam, the city’s top official, told reporters that she was aware that despite the government’s earlier suspension of the contentious legislation that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, protesters were still concerned the government would revive efforts to pass the bill.

“There are still lingering doubts about the government’s sincerity or worries whether the government will restart the process in the Legislative Council,” Ms. Lam said. “There is no such plan. The bill is dead.”

The protesters, including tens of thousands of people who marched on Sunday, have repeatedly called on Mrs. Lam to fully withdraw the bill. But she has refused to do so and there appeared to be no change in her position on Tuesday, though she asserted that there was “no difference” between declaring it dead and withdrawing it.

But Mrs. Lam’s remarks on Tuesday did not satisfy the protesters who have zeroed in on her unwillingness to withdraw the bill as evidence that she continues to underestimate the level of public distrust her administration faces.

“Saying the bill is dead is not as good as withdrawing the bill completely,” said Figo Chan, one of the leaders of Civil Human Rights Front, a coalition of pro-democracy activists that organized several recent marches. “We urge the chief executive not to use words to deceive the people of Hong Kong any longer.”

Public anger over the extradition bill has thrown Hong Kong into the territory’s worst political crisis in years, sending hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets in marches that have been largely peaceful but have sometimes resulted in clashes.

On July 1, the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese control from Britain, a small group of young protesters, many of whom were students, stormed the city’s legislature, smashing glass walls and spray-painting political slogans calling for Mrs. Lam’s resignation and for universal suffrage.

The forceful occupation of the legislative office building was a stark rebuke of Mrs. Lam’s administration as well as what many protesters consider the failure of the political system to adequately represent the interests of Hong Kong over those of Beijing. In recent days, the protesters have increasingly expanded their demands to include the right to direct elections of the city’s leadership.

Mrs. Lam acknowledged that the public’s grievances stemmed from her government’s earlier efforts to push through the bill despite a large public outcry.

“We didn’t predict its political sensitivity, and we haven’t done enough, causing this big storm,” she said. “We express our sincere apology.”

Mrs. Lam rejected calls to set up an independent inquiry into the recent clashes between protesters and the police and refused to back down from the government’s previous condemnation of some protesters as “rioters.”

She also appeared to dismiss the protesters’ calls for her resignation, but pledged to lead a government that would do better at listening to the needs of the broader public. She said that over the past several weeks, the government had approached people from different sectors of society to gather their views and that she would improve the way that the government engages with the territory’s young people, who have been a major force in the protests.

“I still have the passion and the sense of duty to serve for the Hong Kong people,” she said. “I hope society will give me and my team the opportunity and the space to use the new governance style to respond to the people’s economic and livelihood demands.”

While Mrs. Lam’s comments were her strongest attempt yet to reassure the people that the government would not revive the bill, experts said the effort was unlikely to quell widespread anger. The argument over whether the bill has been withdrawn or suspended has become a proxy for a larger debate over Beijing’s influence within Hong Kong’s political system.

“The protesters are adamant on full withdrawal because, according to them, she cannot say the word because she is a stooge of Beijing,” said Willy Lam, an adjunct professor at the Center for China Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “They want to humiliate her.”

On Monday, Denise Ho, a pop star and prominent democracy activist in Hong Kong who has supported the protests, urged the United Nations’ Human Rights Council to help protect the Chinese territory’s semiautonomous status.

Ms. Ho, who spoke to the council in Geneva, asked members to hold an urgent debate “to protect the people of Hong Kong” and to remove China as a member of the council. Dai Demao, a first secretary in China’s mission to the United Nations in Geneva, twice interrupted Ms. Ho’s two-minute speech, denouncing her comments as slander and violating Chinese sovereignty.

Mrs. Lam has come under even greater pressure from the Chinese government after the charging of the legislature on July 1. Beijing has struck a hard line against those protesters, calling them “extreme radicals” and urging the authorities in Hong Kong to restore public order and pursue those criminally responsible for the unrest.

Mr. Lam, the analyst, said the occupation of the legislature, seen as an act of bold defiance against Beijing, made it even more unlikely that the central government under Xi Jinping, an increasingly authoritarian leader, would make any more concessions.

“Xi Jinping is the chairman of everything,” Mr. Lam said. “He won’t be making any further concessions because this debacle has already been used by his enemies in the party to attack him.”

Source : Nytimes