Hong Kong's Lam says move to withdraw bill was hers, not China's

06, Sep. 2019

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HONG KONG, Kyodo - Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said Thursday that the unexpected decision to withdraw a controversial extradition bill that set off months of protests was made by her government and not Beijing.

A day after announcing the withdrawal, the chief executive was questioned about the delay in making the decision and whether the central government played a role in it.

“The decision is one of the Hong Kong SAR government,” Lam told reporters, referring to the special administrative region of China.

“The bill was initiated, introduced and taken forward by the Hong Kong SAR government. Throughout the whole process, the central people's government took the position that they understood why we have to do it, they respected my view and they supported me all the way,” she said.

Lam said formally withdrawing the bill was meant to provide a basis for dialogue with the people, indicating she hopes it will be received as an olive branch.

Regarding the call by protesters for an inquiry into the use of force by police during the unrest, Lam pledge to beef up the Independent Police Complaints Council to review complaints against the force's officers, and that she will personally, along with her officials, reach out to people in various communities.

But protesters who demanded the bill's withdrawal and an independent inquiry into alleged abuse of power by police criticized Lam's decision as “too little, too late” and vowed to continue protesting.

When asked for comment about that criticism, Lam said she hopes her concession “will be looked at in context,” citing the package of four actions she announced Wednesday.

“Taken together, I hope that they would provide a basis for dialogue and help Hong Kong break the current impasse,” she said.

Lam insisted that the bill's withdrawal should not be seen as a change of mind since her earlier decisions to suspend the bill was, for all intents and purposes, a pledge not to take it forward in light of the backlash that ensued from it.

“This former withdrawal of the bill...despite being no different in substance, this is going to be a useful measure for creating that basis for dialogue, and yesterday was the best timing to do it. There should be no further speculation on why we are doing it,” she said.

Lam in June suspended the legislative procedures on the bill and declared it “dead.”

But that failed to quell the protests, which have turned increasingly violent in recent weeks.

Critics of the bill had feared that residents and visitors whom China considers its political opponents could be sent to the mainland for prosecution, drawing concerns from the West including the United States, Canada, Britain and the European Union.

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement issued Wednesday, that the bill's withdrawal, although “long-overdue,” is welcome news but much more must be done.

Pelosi said Congress will swiftly advance the bipartisan Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act to “reaffirm the U.S. commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law in the face of Beijing's crackdown.”

Under the act, Hong Kong government officials found suppressing democracy, human rights and freedom in the territory could have their assets in the United States frozen and be denied entry.

“The escalating violence and use of force perpetrated by the Hong Kong authorities against their own people in recent weeks, which have led to tragic loss of life, must end now,” she said.

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang reiterated in Beijing Thursday that foreign powers have no right to interfere in Hong Kong matters.

“We urge some politicians on the U.S. side to abide by the international law and principle of international relations, respect China's sovereignty, stop immediately any form of interference in Hong Kong's affairs and stop pushing forward bills involving Hong Kong so as not to damage the Sino-U.S. relationship and Hong Kong's stability and prosperity,” Geng said. (Kyodo)

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