China’s government said on Saturday that it supported the decision of Hong Kong’s leader to suspend an unpopular Bill that would allow extraditions to China and which sparked a week of protests.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang called the decision an attempt to “listen more widely to the views of the community and restore calm to the community as soon as possible”. “We support, respect and understand this decision,” Geng Shuang said in a statement, hours after Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced the Bill’s suspension.
United in opposition
Opposition to the Beijing-backed Bill united an unusually wide cross-section of Hong Kong. Critics feared that the proposed law would subject people to China’s notoriously opaque and politicised courts and it was seen as the latest move by Beijing to weaken freedoms promised to the former British colony when it was handed back over to China in 1997.
“The rights and freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong residents are fully protected in accordance with the law. The facts are obvious to all,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry statement said. “Maintaining Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability is not only in the interests of China, but also in the interests of all countries in the world.”
A separate statement by the Chinese central government agency that handles Hong Kong-related affairs said the extradition Bill was “necessary and justified” to plug what it called loopholes in current laws. It said China continues to support the extradition Bill and “pays close attention” to public opposition to the legislation.
The extradition Bill deliberations started in February and Ms. Lam had pushed to have it passed by July.
But the protests changed the equation. Cracks began to appear on Friday in the support base for the Bill with several pro-Beijing politicians and a senior adviser to Ms. Lam saying discussion of the Bill should be postponed for the time being. Sing Tao newspaper reported on Saturday that China’s top official overseeing Hong Kong policy, Vice-Premier Han Zheng, met Ms. Lam in Shenzhen in recent days.
Ms. Lam declined to confirm whether or not the meeting had happened, but took ownership for the decision to suspend the Bill and said she had support from the central government.
‘Lam has lost credibility’
Pro-democracy politicians, responding to Ms. Lam’s announcement, said a suspension was not enough. “Carrie Lam has lost all credibility among Hong Kong people. She must step down,” said Claudia Mo, a legislator and member of the pan-democratic camp, which has opposed the Bill.
The U.S. consulate in Hong Kong welcomed the move and urged “great care and taking into account the views of the local and international community should the Hong Kong government pursue any amendments to its extradition laws, particularly as they relate to mainland China”.