Hong Kong extradition bill
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Protesters again stormed the Revenue Tower in Wan Chai and demanded that the extradition bill be withdrawn. Photo: Felix Wong

Hong Kong government stays invisible to avoid more extradition bill chaos ahead of G20 summit

  • City’s leader Carrie Lam cancels weekly cabinet meeting to avoid rocking boat
  • Protesters again block main entrance at Revenue Tower but mostly succeed in annoying taxpayers and civil servants
Hong Kong’s embattled government is lying low again this week to avoid rocking the boat in the face of continuing opposition to the now-suspended extradition bill, with the city’s leader cancelling Tuesday’s weekly cabinet meeting.

No explanation was given on Monday for the cancellation, while young protesters barged into government buildings again, attempting to disrupt public services and pile pressure on the administration to completely withdraw the unpopular bill.

Dozens of protesters blocked the main entrance of Revenue Tower in Wan Chai during the day, but moved on after succeeding mostly in annoying taxpayers and civil servants who complained about the disruption.

Other opponents of the bill were planning to take their case to an international audience at the G20 summit in Osaka this weekend, even as Beijing warned it would not allow any official discussion on the controversy there.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was nowhere to be seen again, remaining silent amid snowballing demands and advice that she drop plans to prosecute the arrested protesters and order an independent inquiry into the use of force by police during the violent June 12 clashes outside the legislature.

Members of the Executive Council received discussion papers late last week for the meeting on Tuesday, and a government source said Lam had not met people from different sectors in the past few days, unlike early last week.

“The chief executive is pondering how to reconnect with various sectors of society,” the source said.

We shouldn’t compromise principles like the rule of law
Lawmaker Alice Mak

Dr Lam Ching-choi, one of the cabinet advisers to the city’s leader in the Executive Council, said he did not expect her to make any major announcement to address the protesters’ demands in the coming days, and urged the public to give her some time.

“The administration is determined to reconnect with the public and heal the wounds, and we hope the whole of society will allow the chance and time to do so,” he said.

Lam said the government had a lot to consider if it were to respond to protesters’ calls for an independent inquiry into the June 12 clashes.

One lawmaker has suggested that Chief Executive Carrie Lam could ask her deputy, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung, to announce the withdrawal of the bill. Photo: May Tse

“We cannot completely ignore the sentiments of the police,” Lam said. “Hong Kong is a safe city with the rule of law and that is what makes it appealing to foreign investment … [an inquiry] might rock the boat.”

Executive councillors Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun and Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee were also against declaring the full withdrawal of the bill, with the latter saying that move would only encourage protesters to make new demands.

The bill would have allowed the transfer of fugitives to mainland China and other jurisdictions with which Hong Kong has no extradition deal.

But a massive public backlash forced Carrie Lam to suspend it and apologise for underestimating opposition and trying to bulldoze it through the Legislative Council.

Citizens argue with protesters at the Revenue Tower in Wan Chai on Monday. Photo: Sam Tsang

Sources had previously told the Post that Lam was not expected to have any public engagements until July 1, as Beijing would want Hong Kong to stay calm ahead of the widely anticipated meeting between President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Donald Trump at the G20 summit on Friday and Saturday.

More pro-establishment politicians, who were first asked to support Lam’s stance and sell the bill to their voters, have been asking her to consider declaring it fully withdrawn so that opponents would have no reason to continue street protests.

Was public misled on need for extradition bill to solve financial crimes?

Starry Lee Wai-king, who chairs the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, the government’s biggest ally in Legco, has already said her group would understand if Lam backed down further for the sake of healing wounds.

Lawmaker Lo Wai-kwok, chairman of the pro-establishment Business and Professionals Alliance of Hong Kong, said he would understand such a decision by Lam, although he called for an end to bickering over semantics, given that the government had repeatedly pointed out the bill was “as good as dead” because it could not be revived during Legco’s current term.

Liberal Party chairman Felix Chung Kwok-pan suggested Lam ask her No 2, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, to declare the bill withdrawn, if she were unwilling to do so herself.

Lawmaker Alice Mak Mei-kuen from the pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions, who reportedly swore at the chief executive in frustration over the bill’s suspension on one occasion, said she did not see the need to withdraw the amended legislation as the suspension was tantamount to scrapping it.

After Hong Kong’s protests, cooler heads must prevail on both sides

“The government should assess what it can do to address public aspirations,” she said. “But we shouldn’t compromise principles like the rule of law in the process.”

The controversy has taken a toll on Lam’s popularity, with the latest Chinese University survey showing her rating dropping from last month’s 48.1 to 37.5 out of 100.

Meanwhile, a second Hong Kong citizen has applied for a judicial review challenging police action on June 12, this time over the absence of identifying numbers on the uniforms of Special Tactical Squad officers deployed to disperse protesters.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: officials mark time to avoid trouble ahead of G20 summit