Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has said the Chinese government “understands, respects and supports” the withdrawal of the city’s controversial extradition bill.
The bill would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China from Hong Kong.
It was seen as evidence of China’s tightening control over the territory, and sparked months of protests.
The withdrawal is unlikely to placate protesters, who say it comes too late.
In a press conference on Thursday, Ms Lam was asked who had made the decision to withdraw the bill – and said she had the full support of Beijing.
“Throughout the whole process… [from] the early stages of taking forward the bill [to] then withdrawing the bill yesterday, the central people’s government has respected my view and supported me all the way,” she said.
It comes days after the release of leaked audio of Ms Lam, in which she implied the Chinese government had earlier rejected her proposal to withdraw the bill and ordered her not to yield to any of the protesters’ other demands.
Why does it matter what Beijing thinks?
Hong Kong is a part of China under a One Country Two Systems model, which means it enjoys freedoms not seen on the mainland, including its own legal system and borders. Rights including freedom of assembly and free speech are also protected.
When the extradition bill was unveiled in April, it quickly drew criticism. Opponents said it would undermine Hong Kong’s legal freedoms and might be used to intimidate or silence critics of Beijing.
When the government refused to back down, it triggered mass rallies on the streets. The protests, which have sometimes seen violent clashes between police and demonstrators, have since morphed into a broader anti-government movement calling for fuller democracy in Hong Kong.
The withdrawal of the bill is one of the five demands put forward by protesters.
It was suspended and declared “dead” by Ms Lam in June – but authorities had previously refused to announce its full withdrawal.
Aside from the demise of the bill, the protesters’ other key demands are an amnesty for arrested protesters, for the protests not to be categorised as riots”, an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality, and the introduction of universal suffrage.
What else has Carrie Lam promised?
At Thursday’s press conference, Ms Lam reiterated the four measures she put forward on Wednesday in a bid to ease tensions:
- The withdrawal of the bill
- The appointment of two new members to the territory’s Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC), tasked with looking into allegations of police brutality
- A pledge to start “direct dialogue” with members of the community
- An invitation to community leaders, professionals and academics to advise the government in finding “solutions”
She also addressed concerns over whether the bill would actually be formally withdrawn, saying there would be no “debate [or] vote” when parliament resumed.
Asked why it had taken her so long to withdraw the bill, she asked the public not to view the decision in isolation.
“I have announced a package of four actions… each of those actions require a process of deliberation,” she said.
How have protesters responded?
Protesters say the fight will continue until all of their demands are met.
“Carrie Lam… needs to address ALL five demands,” pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong had said in a tweet. “Too little and too late now.”
But state media outlet China Daily said in an editorial on Thursday that Hong Kong protesters no longer had an “excuse to continue violence” following the announcement.
“[The withdrawal] could be interpreted as an olive branch,” said the publication. “[The decision] to withdraw the bill is a sincere and earnest response to the voice of the community.”