The withdrawal of the extradition bill in Hong Kong could be seen as an effort to bring a semblance of calm to the city where tensions have hit breaking point. But the announcement is unlikely to end the protests as the pro-democracy demonstrators believe it’s a step “too little, too late”. They say withdrawal of the bill is just one of their five demands, the other four being the retraction of the word ‘riot’ to describe rallies; the release of all arrested demonstrators; an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality; and the right for Hong Kong people to democratically choose their leaders. The fiery protests have plunged Hong Kong, an international financial hub, into its deepest crisis since the former British colony was returned to China in 1997.
While Hong Kong’s pro-China leader Carrie Lam defended the extradition bill on the grounds that it would help close the existing loopholes which allow criminals to use Hong Kong as a safe haven, millions of Hong Kongers took to the streets saying the amendment is an encroachment on the territory’s autonomy, and would corrode the territory’s legal protections.
The protests have morphed into a mass movement against China’s repeated reinterpretation of the Basic Law and seizing jurisdiction over this semiautonomous territory. The introduction of the extradition bill was perceived as one of the steps to erode the city’s autonomy. The prolonged protests have hurt the economy, with a slowdown in the Chinese economy and its trade war with the US adding to the woes.
But the core values promised for Hong Kong - the free press, the rule of law, independent judiciary and impartial police - will continue to keep the wind in the protesters’ sail. With CEO Lam taking orders from the Xi Jinping government, which has warned that it would not sit idly if the unrest threatened Chinese security and sovereignty, and the protesters remaining largely leaderless, it remains to be seen how much democracy Hong Kong will be able to achieve in the future.