At long last, after 14 weeks of turmoil in Hong Kong “The Withdrawal” finally came. As recounted earlier, massive protests were sparked in the month of June by the introduction of a bill allowing the extradition of suspects to China. The attempt of the Chief Executive, Carrie Lam to force the bill through the HK parliament, the LegCo, ended in a lengthy confrontation between protesters and police. But at last, Carrie Lam announced today the withdrawal of the extradition bill, which was the initial and most important demand of hongkongers.
A taste of unfinished business
But as time passed, the demands of the protesters calcified into five main demands:
- Withdrawal of the Extradition Bill;
- Appointment of an independent commission of enquiry on police brutality;
- Retraction of the qualification of “riot” to the events of 12 June 2019 (forceful disruption of LegCo);
- Release of all persons arrested for “riot”;
- Dissolution of LegCo and election at direct universal suffrage.
Carrie Lam refused to appoint an independent commission of enquiry, but announced the appointment of two additional barristers at the Independent Police Complaint Commission (IPCC) as well as the appointment of foreign independent experts as advisors. This falls short of the demands of the protesters as the IPCC has no power to compell testimony or release of documentation by the police.
Furthermore, in last few days, police has been cracking down with renewed strength on protesters, leading to some shocking images which reinforced the support for protesters in the society.
China’s haphazard strategy
While blaming “external influences”, and demanding a relentless repression which fueled some of the worst police violence, China appeared to relent somehow yesterday. It softened its tone, saying that “peaceful protests” were a right, and not mentioning at all the burning of Chinese flags that took place over the week-end.
This appeasing talk should not let us forget that at the same time, the Police has been relentlessly banning protests, arresting politicians and organizers of protests and doing generally their best to discourage people from protesting. The double talk of China aims probably at deescalating the situation, before cracking down more decisively, once public interest vaned.
The mechanism that preluded to the official announcement of the withdrawal was also fraught with signs that everything remained the same under the surface. Only pro-Peking politicians and business leaders were called in a meeting with Carrie Lam, with none of the opposition party leaders or activists who had been part of the movement. This alone provides a powerful sign that everything remains unchanged.
The big issue for protesters in the coming days and weeks, will be to maintain the same level of mobilization until fulfillment of all the demands. Given that China is at a particularly difficult venture in history with trade war biting hard on its economy and that Hong Kong has been under the eyes of the world for several weeks now, it will be difficult to find a better historical moment.
China has proved the action of the Anti-Elab movement has weakened it. In this framework, protesters should move ahead and try to secure some form of commitment either, on the continuation of the special status of Hong Kong after 2047, or on universal suffrage. Over the longer term, this fight has definitely awakened the feelings of hongkongers on wishing for self-determination and that taboo word… “independence”.
Edit: I felt I could not close without sharing with you this lovely song which is considered the “national” anthem of Hong Kong.