Protests in Hong Kong continue as the leader Carrie Lam has made the decision to table the controversial legislation that would allow extradition to mainland China to stand trial. In response to millions of demonstrators expressing their dissent, Lam apologized to the people of Hong Kong, setting the bill aside and promising that “the bill was dead.” However, protesters have made their message to the Hong Kong government clear: not only do they demand for the extradition legislation to be permanently withdrawn but also that Lam step down as chief executive, as one protester told Reuters, “[An] apology is not enough.”
These sentiments only grew stronger after the Hong Kong police employed violent tactics, shooting rubber bullets and firing tear gas at protesters. The violence has escalated, as just last week, pro-democracy demonstrators were ambushed and beaten with long sticks and umbrellas at Yuen Long MTR station by gangs dressed in white t-shirts. It is estimated that there were eight casualties that resulted from the attack. Lam’s office condemned the violence and reprimanded protesters for changing their protest route and “defacing the national emblem” as they protested Beijing’s strong presence in their city. As of now, four protesters have died for the cause throughout the course of the three-month protests and the casualty toll is on the rise.
Although these demonstrations began as direct opposition to the extradition legislation, they quickly progressed into addressing larger questions of what Hong Kongers want their democracy to look like and lingering doubts about the judicial sovereignty that the people are guaranteed as a special administrative region. The tensions unfolding in the form of civil disobedience are a test for the Hong Kong government in two key ways.
First, the political crisis presents a test of accountability, responsibility for actions the government takes that are unpopular with the electorate, and how well the executive responds to the public outcry incited. Carrie Lam made the decision to table the bill rather than withdraw it completely, which creates a possibility for the bill to be relitigated sometime in the future. This is significant because it not only speaks to how out of touch she is with the public that elected her but also raises questions about how she reconciles being under the strong influence of mainland China’s government.
Second, this becomes a serious test of the government’s legitimacy. Seeing as opposition to her tenure as chief executive remains strong, the coming weeks will be a trial of how Lam keeps a divided Hong Kong together given that many have been explicitly clear that they have no faith in her as a leader and believe that she has the best interest of the mainland in mind as opposed to that of her own people. As protests persist and resentment toward the state continues to brew, the executive branch will have a trying time ahead as the stability of the semi-autonomous region has been compromised.
While the future is uncertain for Lam’s administration and relations between Hong Kong and mainland China, the people of Hong Kong have taken a pivotal step toward realizing a democratic and accountable government that takes seriously the rights afforded to Hong Kong as a special administrative region that maintains its right to govern independent of the Chinese government. This marks an important moment in Hong Kong’s history and will shape the political landscape moving forward.
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