Since protests over a controversial extradition bill in Hong Kong turned violent, with local police using tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds, the Chinese regime has sought to distance itself from the proposed legislation.
The Chinese regime had previously expressed support for the bill, but made no direct comments about it. Sovereignty over Hong Kong was handed from Britain to China in 1997, though the city still operates under a separate government and economic system.
Liu Xiaoming, Chinese ambassador to the United Kingdom, said in a June 12 interview with BBC that the Beijing regime gave no instructions to the Hong Kong government regarding the bill.
But since April, there have been insider sources within Beijing who claimed that the extradition bill was a direct request from the Chinese central government to Hong Kong.
Feng Chongyi, associate professor of China studies at the University of Technology Sydney, told the Chinese-language Epoch Times on June 13 that Liu’s words were likely the Chinese regime’s way of backing out after the recent clashes between police and protesters drew international attention. “Now that there’s a problem, [Beijing wants Hong Kong’s top leader] Carrie Lam to take full responsibility,” Feng said.
In an interview with the BBC’s “Newsnight” on June 12, Liu said: “The media, including BBC, I think. You portrayed the story as the Hong Kong government made this amendment under the instruction of the Beijing government. As a matter of fact, the central government gave no instruction, no order about making an amendment. This amendment was initiated by the Hong Kong government.”
But when asked by BBC host Mark Urban whether Beijing would advise the Hong Kong government to drop the bill, given the large number of citizens opposed to it, Liu said no and praised the bill for “rectifying the deficiencies, plugging the loopholes of the existing legal system.”
He also claimed that “policemen were beaten [by protesters], and police have to defend themselves.”
On the afternoon of June 12, as protesters gathered outside the government headquarters, Hong Kong police started to use batons and pepper spray to disperse the crowd, who were largely unarmed. Later, police used tear gas, rubber bullets, and bean bags.
As of 3 p.m. local time on June 13, the Hong Kong Government Information Office said that 79 protesters were injured and had been sent to hospitals for treatment. Two wounded men were in critical condition, while 67 had been released from the hospital.
Liu claimed that the Hong Kong government initiated the extradition bill on its own without any input from China, but information from insiders suggests otherwise.
In April, a source close to the Hong Kong Liaison Office, the representative office of Beijing in Hong Kong, told the Chinese-language Epoch Times that the extradition bill is “a political task that the central government has commanded Carrie Lam to carry out.”
On June 12, Hong Kong media Next Magazine quoted anonymous pro-Beijing officials within Hong Kong government as saying that the Chinese regime pressured Lam to go through with the bill.
“If Lam drops the extradition bill now, she and her family will be in trouble … [so] she will finish the political task ordered by the central government even though she will be criticized by all Hong Kongers. Lam believes that Hong Kongers will quickly forget what she did,” the pro-Beijing sources said.
“She has no choice.”
Feng, the Australian-Chinese professor, believes Liu’s comments were mostly to fool the international community. “The Chinese government is always saying one thing but doing another,” Feng said.
He added that the bill will allow the Chinese regime to have a way of punishing Hong Kong citizens who express opinions critical of the Chinese regime.
Back in 2017, several Hong Kong booksellers who sold titles critical of the Chinese leadership were abducted and later detained in mainland China.
Mr. Li, a Chinese scholar, similarly told the Chinese-language Epoch Times that Liu’s comments suggest that Beijing authorities could not bear the criticisms from the international community, thus they wanted to find a party to take the blame.
“It’s a consistent approach of the Chinese regime. It separates itself from Lam, [to let her take all the responsibility],” Li said.
Between 2002 and 2003, the Hong Kong government proposed an anti-subversion bill called Basic Law Article 23, which brought concerns that Hongkongers might lose their free speech and other basic rights.
Roughly 500,000 Hongkongers took to the streets in protest on July 1, 2003, forcing then-Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa to drop the bill. He resigned in March 2005.
As protesters descended and international voices of criticism grew, the city’s unicameral Legislative Council (LegCo) canceled its scheduled “second reading” debates on the extradition bill until further notice.
According to the city’s legislative process, the bill needs to pass three readings before it is brought to a vote. But the pro-Beijing head of LegCo, Andrew Leung, has sought to fast-track the bill and bring it to a vote on June 20.