Hong Kong girded for another mass march against a China-backed extradition bill Sunday, as the city’s leader, Carrie Lam, faced new calls to withdraw the legislation after clashes between protesters and police.
The Civil Human Rights Front, which organized a mass demonstration that drew hundreds of thousands of people into the streets last week, said Friday it was negotiating with police to stage a similar event this weekend. The threat of a new rally comes as allies of Lam began questioning her tactics and lawmakers postponed debate on the controversial bill, with meetings on Monday and Tuesday “to be decided.”
On Friday, one of Lam’s top advisers said her administration had underestimated the amount of opposition to the bill, casting doubt on whether the law could be rushed through before the end of the legislative period next month. The government was considering options including a “pause” rather than withdrawing the bill, the local South China Morning Post newspaper reported, citing people it didn’t identify.
“I think it is impossible to discuss under such confrontation. It’s highly difficult,” Executive Council Convener Bernard Chan said Friday on Radio Television Hong Kong. “At least these days, we shouldn’t intensify such confrontation.”
Lam has insisted on pushing ahead with the bill, despite protests that have drawn hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets over concerns it would further strengthen Beijing’s grip over Hong Kong. While only a few protesters were still near the legislature on Friday, Lam called off an appearance at a technology conference organized by the Wall Street Journal, organizers said.
“So far everybody is very unhappy with the way the government handled it,” Felix Chung, who represents the textile and garments industries as a pro-establishment member of Hong Kong’s legislature, said in a phone interview. “I believe most people in Hong Kong do not agree with the reasons why it has to be that rushed.”
The unrest in China’s most international city comes at a bad time for President Xi Jinping, who needs to convey domestic strength ahead a pivotal potential summit with Donald Trump on the sidelines of the Group of 20 meetings this month in Japan. Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng summed the U.S.’s deputy mission chief in Beijing, Robert Forden, on Friday, to push back against “irresponsible” remarks American officials had made in support of the protesters.
The police hadn’t yet formally responded to the Civil Human Rights Front’s request for a permit to march from Victoria Park in the city’s Tin Hau area for about 3 kilometers to the government headquarters. The group said they didn’t see any reason why police should refuse their request because their events have been peaceful.
While Lam argues the extradition legislation is needed to prevent the city from becoming a haven for criminal, opponents say it could drive away foreign companies, imperil critics of the Communist Party and prompt the U.S. to reconsider the city’s special trading status.
Bolstering those concerns, a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, reintroduced legislation that among other things threatens to freeze U.S. assets of and deny visa to individuals involved in forcibly removing people from Hong Kong.
U.S. President Trump said he was confident Hong Kong and China would resolve their differences. “I’m sure they’ll be able to work it out,” he said.
The city’s General Chamber of Commerce, which says it represents businesses employing a third of the local workforce, said large-scale protests show the public has “serious apprehensions” about the bill. “We sincerely urge the government to continue to listen to stakeholders and engage in meaningful dialogue with the public,” Chairman Aron Harilela, said in a statement, adding that the group agreed with the bill’s underlying principles.
Images beamed from the protest Wednesday showed police beating back protesters with batons and crowds running from clouds of tear gas near some of the world’s most recognizable skyscrapers, in an area home to multinational companies, luxury hotels, banks and the U.S. Consulate. Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority confirmed that 81 people had been injured, while police said 22 officers were hurt.
The government’s headquarters was closed through Friday, but several main thoroughfares shut down by Wednesday’s standoff were reopened. Hong Kong Police Commissioner Stephen Lo said officers had acted in accordance with guidelines Wednesday and had shot 150 rounds of tear gas at protesters.
Chung, the Hong Kong pro-establishment lawmaker, said opponents of the bill were exaggerating its pitfalls and protections were added to safeguard against misuse. The statements by foreign governments questioning the bill have only fueled Beijing’s resolve to pass it even though “it’s not such a big deal to delay it or make amendments,” he said.
“Now it’s been raised to an international, diplomatic level,” Chung said. “That is why the central government and Hong Kong are standing so firm on this bill now.”
--With assistance from Shawna Kwan, Stephen Engle, Kelly Belknap, Peter Martin, Erik Wasson, Shelly Banjo and Simon Lee.