Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has failed to quell an inspiring pro-democracy movement that has seen 14 weeks of mass protests.
Lam last week promised to withdraw the hated extradition bill that sparked the movement. But protesters rightly don’t trust her. They say her announcement is “too little, too late” and have vowed to keep up their struggle.
And some have warned that Lam’s move could be a prelude to more attacks.
Lawmaker Ray Chan said, “Carrie Lam could use the bill’s withdrawal as a pretext to frame protesters as perpetrators of violence.
“As the bill is withdrawn, the logic goes, any ongoing protests must be serving ulterior motives, Hong Kong independence or a ‘colour revolution’.”
Longstanding pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong tweeted, “We urge the world not to be deceived. A full-scale clampdown is on the way.”
In an editorial on Thursday, the Communist Party-owned China Daily newspaper warned Lam’s announcement meant protesters no longer had an “excuse to continue violence”.
Lam said the same day, “The most important thing right now is to stop the violence and to sternly enforce the law.”
She doesn’t mean the violence from the cops—she is referring to protesters.
Months of state brutality, threats, arrests and intimidation have raised serious questions about the nature of Hong Kong society.
One protest organiser described the “repeated incidents of police violence and mob attacks” that protesters have endured.
“We believe that Lam’s administration tolerated these attacks, which makes the situation not just about withdrawing the bill,” they said.
Man-Kei Tam from Amnesty International Hong Kong said the government should have withdrawn the bill “months ago”.
“Instead it chose to meet protests with tear gas and rubber bullets, inflaming tensions and leading to months of unrest,” he said.
“The Hong Kong authorities have chosen to suppress protests in a grossly unlawful way that has seriously damaged the people’s trust and sense of legitimacy of the government.” The movement is fighting for five demands, including an independent inquiry into police violence and more democracy.
After Lam’s announcement many people took to Twitter using the hashtag #5DemandsNot1Less.
Lawmaker Eddie Chu said that if Lam withdraws the bill “then we will change our slogan to, ‘Four key demands, we will accept nothing less’.” Yet it isn’t clear that any of the five have been won, as the withdrawal of the bill isn’t guaranteed.
Lam’s move came two days after some groups of workers, school and university students began strikes against the bill.
Within hours of her announcement, protesters set up barricades outside a police station in the Mong Kok district demanding Lam meet all their demands.
This week school students were still forming human chains outside schools and refusing to go into classes. And further protests took place last weekend.
‘The government wants to distract and escape accountability’
The new bill would allow the extradition of suspects to mainland China, opening the door for China to target its political opponents in Hong Kong.
Carrie Lam said in her announcement that the proposal to withdraw the bill will be put to Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, known as LegCo.
Protesters’ group the Citizens Press conference said, “LegCo will not be in session until October.
“Even more alarmingly, LegCo is not elected by the Hong Kong people and consists mainly of pro-Beijing legislators.” The group warned that, if LegCo rejects the proposal, Lam could “say it’s not her fault and proceed with the bill”.
“To our friends around the world, please do not think this government has backed down,” it said. “It is attempting to distract and escape accountability.”
Lam was forced to try and reassure people the day after her announcement. “The sole purpose of the LegCo procedure is to withdraw the bill,” she claimed.
As part of a move to placate the movement, Lam also announced two new members for the police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC). Lawmaker Claudia Mo said, “It is totally meaningless. It is common knowledge that the new members are in Lam’s pocket.”
And the move falls short of protesters’ calls for a fully independent inquiry into police actions and an amnesty for all those arrested.
Lam refused to resign or to rule out a suggestion that the government could use an emergency law to clamp down on protests if the movement continues.
Some protesters last weekend waved US flags and called on US president Donald Trump to intervene.
But ruling classes in the US and Britain will put their own interests before those of ordinary people.
The movement against the bill has involved more than a quarter of people in Hong Kong—and grown into a battle for a different kind of society.
The fact that the authorities have failed to crush it is a testament to the strength of ordinary people when they take collective action.
They will have to keep up the pressure to win all of their demands.