Two million Hong Kongers, nearly one-third of the city’s population, swarmed into the streets on Sunday, forcing the chief executive to finally offer her apology and suspend the controversial extradition bill in the biggest protest in Hong Kong’s history under China ever.
Following the march last Sunday that drew one million people, protestors vented their anger at the government’s refusal to revoke the controversial extradition bill completely, and the police brutality that followed the earlier protests. The Chief Executive’s Saturday offer to suspend the bill was clearly rejected by the public who doubled their numbers the next day, compared to the previous week’s march.
Passions were further inflamed by the tragic death of man hanging a banner of Pacific Place in the city’s core and the terminus of marches past.
The pressure cooker
Pressure on Lam’s administration is mounting after massive marches on two consecutive Sundays. The government made a statement the same evening after the protest’s organizer, Civil Human Rights Front, claimed two million people had joined the march.
“Having regard to the strong and different views in society, the Government has suspended the legislative amendment exercise at the full Legislative Council,” it read.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam apologized to Hong Kong’s citizens, and vowed to “adopt a most sincere and humble attitude to accept criticisms and make improvements in serving the public,” – but did not appear to acknowledge widespread demands for her resignation.
“The Chief Executive admitted that the deficiencies in the Government’s work had led to substantial controversies and disputes in society, causing disappointment and grief among the people,” the statement added.
Groups criticized the apology for coming too late and the government only offering the suspension rather than the complete withdrawal of the bill. Critics claim suspension creates a situation where the government could quickly reinstate the bill with little to no notice.
Why one million more?
Sunday’s march was further fueled by widespread anger about the excessive force the police used on unarmed protestors on Wednesday, a disappointing press conference on Saturday, and the unfortunate death of a protestor on Saturday.
On Wednesday, when the bill was scheduled to be discussed, protestors wearing masks and goggles surrounded the legislature to urge the scrapping of the bill, but they met with over 150 rounds of tear gas as well as rubber bullets and bean bag rounds after the government declared the demonstration as a “riot”. 81 people were injured in the ensuing conflict.
Anger mounted among citizens, who condemned the police for being excessively aggressive towards the student protestors and the press, as images that went viral on the social media showed violent clashes as well as verbal abuse and violence targeting the media.
On Saturday, Lam held a press conference, which was joined by reporters wearing helmets and masks to protest against the violence used by police. She reiterated that the police “were restrained and responsible”.
Maintaining a hard line, as usual, Lam did not promise to withdraw the bill completely or offer an apology or a suggestion of her stepping down. In the evening, a 30-year old citizen wearing a raincoat that read “Carrie Lam kills Hong Kong” staged a solo protest at a shopping mall in Admiralty with a banner calling for the revocation of the bill. He later had a fatal accidental fall from the roof, despite the fire department deploying an emergency air bag, and became the first, and hopefully only, life lost in this protest.
During the march, protesters chanted “students are not rioters” and “withdraw the extradition bill”. They also paid tribute to the protester who had lost his life the night before, leaving white flowers on the roadside.
“The government refused to withdraw the bill on Saturday, and this even resulted in a protester losing his life. We need to keep the turnout massive to express our anger and discontent,” Jack Shum, a 28-year old protester, told Harbour Times on Sunday.
“If we didn’t come today, the government might think we accepted their proposal of just suspending the bill rather than killing it off completely,” he added.
Many more share this view.
“I think suspension isn’t enough, and could be seen as a way for the government to merely assuage the protesters’ outrage over the bill until some time has passed,” Rachelle Ma, a local student, told Harbour Times.
“Everyone from different communities would be affected if the bill was passed, which is why we saw an even bigger turn out on the 12th,” she added.
Brought to U.S-China power play
The world is watching.
Two consecutive massive turnouts have drawn the world’s attention to the Asian city that is normally perceived as safe and stable. U.S. President Donald Trump is set to discuss the Hong Kong mass protests with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at the upcoming G20 summit in Japan this month, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.
“I think we’ll get the opportunity to see President Xi in just a couple weeks at the G20 summit. I’m sure this will be among the issues they discuss,” Pompeo told Fox News on Sunday.
“We see what’s happening, what’s unfolding in Hong Kong. We are watching the people of Hong Kong speak about the things they value,” he added.
Last week, U.S. lawmakers reintroduced a bipartisan bill known as the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act to defend the city’s autonomy. The bill would require an annual certification of Hong Kong’s autonomy, and guarantee visa applications for those arrested or detained after joining nonviolent protest activities for pro-democracy advocacy in Hong Kong.
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