Hong Kong’s Carrie Lam announces China extradition bill is suspended

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announce a contentious proposal to allow extraditions to mainland China has been suspended, but not completely withdrawn.

In a press conference on Saturday afternoon, she said: “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.”

Asked about her own future as chief executive and whether anyone in her government will take responsibility over the issue, Lam acknowledged she and other officials had not done a “good enough” job of persuading citizens. “But give us another chance,” she said.

That turnaround came after mass protests and street clashes shook the Asian financial hub in the past week. Lam, the territory’s top official, had initially been defiant, vowing that the plan must proceed and condemning Wednesday’s demonstrations, calling them a “blatant, organized riot, and in no way an act of loving Hong Kong.”

The proposed bill, calling for Hong Kong to make legal amendments to allow accused criminals to be extradited to jurisdictions with which it has no such arrangement — including China — has led to widespread opposition in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory of 7.4 million people.

Lam said that suspending the legislation does not mean it is being withdrawn and added that the central government in Beijing has been informed and supports the need to take more time.

“I can tell you that the central people’s government adopts the same attitude,” she said. “They understand, they have confidence in my judgement.”

It is not clear whether the suspension would satisfy opponents, who have demanded it be scrapped completely.

Hundreds of thousands of people had marched in protest on June 9 and another mass rally was planned for Sunday.

Hong Kong citizens, who enjoy a legal system independent from the rest of China, fear the plan could threaten those judicial protections and their broader autonomy — legacies of its time as a British colony.

Hong Kong has for nearly 22 years been a semi-autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China with its own legal system and currency.

While the territory was guaranteed a high degree of control over its own affairs for at least 50 years under a “one country, two systems arrangement” after Britain ceded sovereignty to China on July 1, 1997, local unease over increasing mainland influence has steadily grown.

Foreign business groups and governments had come out against the plan amid concerns that any erosion to Hong Kong’s legal system could make it a less attractive place for banks and companies to operate The government had said the legislation was necessary to close a legal “gap” that prevents it from extraditing a local man to Taiwan for allegedly killing his girlfriend while on a visit there last year.

It wanted to amend the law to that effect, but the focus of concern is that it would also apply to China. The government insists there are strong safeguards, including those that will prevent human rights abuses, and says no one would be extradited for political purposes.

Lam categorically denied Monday in remarks to reporters the idea that the legal changes were proposed by the central government in Beijing. China was on record as backing the plan, though it has dismissed concerns it wants to water down Hong Kong’s autonomy.

“Hong Kong people’s rights and freedoms have been fully guaranteed,” Geng Shuang, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said at a regular briefing Wednesday in Beijing.

source: CNBC