Following widespread criticism of the Hong Kong police force using violent methods to disperse protesters opposing a controversial extradition bill, the city’s pro-Beijing lawmakers and top officials made public comments on June 14 expressing that they supported putting the bill on hold.
The change in tone represented an indirect concession. The bill, which would amend current laws to allow any country, including mainland China, to seek extradition of criminal suspects, has drawn broad opposition within Hong Kong society, with many fearing that given China’s disregard for rule of law, the proposal could allow the Chinese regime to charge with impunity, while further eroding the city’s freedoms and autonomy since it was reverted from British to Chinese rule 22 years ago.
Meanwhile, Liu Xiaoming, the 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, leading commentators to suggest that Beijing was forcing the city’s top leader Carrie Lam to take full responsibility for the fallout after police fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and bean bags at tens of thousands of unarmed protesters who called for the bill to be scrapped.
Bernard Chan is a member of the cabinet-like Executive Council (ExCo) since 2012. He is also a delegate to China’s rubber stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress since 2008.
The ExCo has 33 members: Chief Executive Carrie Lam, 16 official members, and 16 non-official members, also known as Ministers without Portfolio. Chan is the convenor, or leader of the non-official members. All members are pro-Beijing.
“I think it is impossible to discuss [the bill] under such confrontation. It would be very difficult,” Chan said during a June 14 phone-in radio program on local media RTHK.
Chan lamented that the “massive conflict” between police and protesters on June 12 resulted in more than 80 protesters incurring injuries. “At the very least we should not escalate the antagonism,” Chan said.
“Our first task right now is on how to mollify the public to avoid more clashes in future,” Chan said. “We indeed need to review what to do.”
Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a pro-Beijing senior counsel and non-official ExCo member, said on the same program that he would not object to postponing the extradition bill, and suggested that those for and against the bill should have a dialogue to find a middle-ground solution.
Two other non-official members Lam Ching-choi and Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun expressed similar opinions. “The government is not intransigent,” Lam said in a RTHK interview, indicating that it was possible for the government to compromise.
But Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, ExCo non-official member and also a lawmaker within the unicameral Legislative Council (LegCo), said in an interview with the South China Morning Post that she would like to pass the bill before the LegCo summer recess.
Meanwhile, an insider close to the Hong Kong government who is familiar with the bill told The Epoch Times on June 14 that Carrie Lam could possibly make a decision on Saturday to pause the bill.
Within LegCo, all pro-democratic lawmakers are against the extradition bill, while all pro-Beijing support it.
Michael Tien is the first pro-Beijing LegCo member who publicly asked the government “to resolve the issue peacefully.”
“At present, Hong Kongers are very worried about the situation. Those who have been less vocal in the past—moderate professionals, the middle class, and experts and scholars—are also generally worried. I now ask Hong Kong authorities to take the lead to cool down the incident through understanding and peace,” Tien wrote in a Facebook post on June 14.
Lam claimed that the purpose of the legislation was to extradite a Hong Kong murder suspect Chan Tong-kai, who is currently wanted in Taiwan. Tien told reporters at LegCo on June 14 that Taiwan had already clearly stated that it would not seek extradition of Chan even if the bill passes.
“I don’t understand why [Carrie Lam] is still so adamant about it,” Tien said.
Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen told media on June 13 that she would not accept the murder case as an excuse for the extradition bill to go through. “We won’t accept amending a law for a special case…We are not willing to be an accomplice to an evil law,” she said.
Tien expressed worries that the pro-Beijing camp could lose its majority during 2020 LegCo elections if Lam insists on forcing the bill through.
On the same day, Peter Lai Hing-ling, former secretary for security; Anson Chan Fang On-sang, former chief secretary; Elizabeth Bosher, former deputy secretary for economic services; and Allen Lee Peng-fei, a former Legco lawmaker; were among 22 former top officials and lawmakers who issued a statement calling on Lam to withdraw the extradition bill.
On June 14, the LegCo announced that scheduled meetings to debate the bill on June 17 and 18 are still pending. It had earlier canceled debates on June 12, 13, and 14 after massive protests.
The pro-Beijing head of LegCo had earlier said he would fast-track the bill and call for a vote on June 20.