Hong Kong suspends bill allowing extraditions to mainland China

Hong Kong suspends bill allowing extraditions to mainland China
© ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images

Hong Kong has indefinitely suspended a bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China after massive street protests against the proposal. 

“After repeated internal deliberations over the last two days, I now announce that the government has decided to suspend the legislative amendment exercise, restart our communication with all sectors of society, do more explanation work and listen to different views of society,” Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said at a news conference, according to Reuters.

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The suspension marks a stunning reversal amid a week marked with violent demonstrations against the proposal. About a million people marched last Sunday to protest the law, organizers told Reuters. Demonstrations throughout the week were met with tear gas, bean bag rounds and rubber bullets from police, leading to turmoil and significant pressure on Lam.

Lam said there is no deadline to pass the legislation, but maintained she is not scrapping it entirely.

“I believe that we cannot withdraw this bill, or else society will say that this bill is groundless,” she said, according to The New York Times.

Lam avoided answering questions directly as to whether she would step down from her post, instead pleading with the public to “give us another chance” and expressing “deep sorrow and regret” over the law’s handling.

The backlash over the bill sparked one of the most significant political demonstrations on the island since Britain returned Hong Kong to China in 1997, Reuters noted.

Debate over the bill started in February and Lam had vowed to have it passed by July, according to the news service.

Support for the legislation began to crumble Friday after numerous politicians with close ties to Beijing said discussions should be postponed, Reuters reported.

Some observers believe the order to suspend debate on the law came from Beijing.

“They would have indicated to Carrie...that this just has to end. She didn’t understand what she was doing,” Steve Tsang, a political scientist at SOAS in London, told Reuters. 

“I think Carrie Lam’s days are numbered...Beijing cannot afford to sack her right away, because that would be an indication of weakness.”

The Chinese government office in charge of Hong Kong affairs expressed “support, respect and understanding” for Lam’s decision, with a spokesperson saying the central government would continue “to firmly support” her.

However, pro-democracy opponents of the bill have called for Lam's resignation and said the legislation should be taken off the table. 

“Carrie Lam has lost all credibility among Hong Kong people. She must step down,” said Claudia Mo, a member of the pan-democratic group that opposed the bill.