Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam says extradition bill ‘is dead’ after weeks of protests – POLITICO
This story is being published as part of a content partnership with the South China Morning Post. It originally appeared on scmp.com on July 9, 2019.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor gave her strongest pledge yet on Tuesday morning when she declared the highly unpopular extradition bill that sparked several mass protests was “dead”, changing from an earlier script that it “will die” in 2020.
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While protesters had demanded a full withdrawal, Lam stressed her stance on Tuesday had already been definitive.
Speaking before the weekly meeting with her advisers in the Executive Council, Lam described the government’s work in amending the law as a “complete failure.”
The chief executive acknowledged there were lingering doubts that the government could restart the amendment process within the Legislative Council’s current term, which ends in 2020.
“There is no such plan, the bill is dead,” Lam said.
She admitted her stance on Tuesday did not differ much from when she announced last month that the legislative process would be suspended, adding: “In some sense, even if [the bill] is withdrawn today, it can be retabled at Legco within three months.”
The bill would have allowed Hong Kong to transfer suspects to jurisdictions it lacks extradition agreements with, including mainland China. Critics feared it would remove the legal firewall between the city and the mainland, exposing suspects to opaque trials across the border.
Lam, however, stood firm on not setting up a top-level probe into clashes between police and protesters.
She said the Independent Police Complaints Council would launch an investigation, and that all parties involved in the demonstrations, including protesters, police, media and onlookers, could provide information.
There have been widespread calls for a judge-led commission of inquiry (COI) to be set up, with former chief justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang the latest to add his voice, in a commentary asking for such a commission that was published in the Post on Tuesday.
“While I respect [Li’s] views … I’m afraid on this particular issue of an independent COI, the view has been taken for the IPCC to perform this role,” Lam said.
Lam also touched on the 2014 Occupy movement, during which protesters had called for the implementation of genuine universal suffrage.“Five years ago, we finished Occupy Central, we moved on, without addressing those fundamental problems,” Lam said. “But this time I don’t think we can continue to ignore those fundamental and deep-seated problems.”
Asked if she would restart discussions on political reform, Lam said she was “not targeting a particular issue.”
She added: “It could be economic problems, it could be livelihood issues, it could be political divisions in society.”
The chief executive also said she was “willing to engage in an open dialogue with students without any preconditions.”
Student leaders from eight universities said they would only talk to Lam if she agreed to their two conditions on Friday: meet them in a town hall-style open meeting and promise to exonerate protesters.
Lam reiterated that the government did not call a protest on June 12, during which there were violent clashes between police and protesters, a “riot.”
She also said it would be against the rule of law to grant an amnesty to arrested protesters “at this stage,” without investigations and prosecutions.
The weekly Exco meeting was the first at the Chief Executive’s Office since June 11. A meeting last week was held at Government House, while two others were canceled due to the recent protests.
Among protesters’ demands are that all references to clashes on June 12 as a riot be retracted.
“In the coming three years, there must be officials stepping down to fulfill the accountability system,” Tien told a radio show, referring to the time left for the current administration.
Tien, however, refused to say who he had in mind.
Speaking on the same program, Liberal Party lawmaker Felix Chung Kwok-pan said it was not possible for Lam to step down at the moment. He also suggested that if ministers were to quit, it would be difficult to find others to replace them.
“Given now how hot the kitchen is, which is almost burning, who would be willing to join and work for the government?” Chung said.
Instead, he suggested changes in Exco.
“Exco is one of the most important advisory bodies for the chief executive … Now there are problems, should there be changes in Exco? At least there is action to show the government is not only saying it will change or listen,” he said.
Tien, a lawmaker of the Roundtable group, also suggested that Exco members should not have background links to political parties and should remain politically neutral.
Additional reporting by Elizabeth Cheung