So, as we reported last night, the extradition bill that was the initial impetus for the protests in Hong Kong has been withdrawn by Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam.
That’s excellent news, but where does that leave the protest movement? Let’s take a look.
Of the Five Demands that the protesters have made, one has been met. What about the others? Here is what we know right now about any progress in meeting them.
- An independent investigation into the actions of the police. In a press conference, Lam did address this, saying that the IPCC (Independent Police Complaints Council) will investigate. Protesters have criticized the IPCC as being dominated by pro-government members, doubting that the investigation will be independent. It is unlikely that an IPPC investigation will be acceptable to pro-democracy protesters.
- Stop characterizing the protests as “riots.” This demand is important because if the protests are called “riots” and the protesters are called “rioters” then those that were arrested during the protests face more serious charges and harsher punishment. We have not seen or heard anything from the HK government regarding this demand.
- Release of all protesters that have been arrested and dropping of all charges against them. Again, we have not seen or heard anything regarding this demand. [UPDATE: Lam said in her press conference, “we cannot accept letting criminals go under the existing legal system.” So, the HK government will not accept this demand.
- Resignation of Carrie Lam and universal suffrage for the Hong Kong people for chief executive and other legislative and government positions. Nothing has been formally said about this, either, but it would not be at all surprising if Carrie Lam steps down soon. [UPDATE: however, in her press conference, Lam said, “My personal stance has made known for months, my team and I will remain and will tackle the problems, with the priority on stopping violence.”] As for the demand for universal suffrage, we regard this as the most important of the protesters’ demands for Hong Kong’s future, and the one least likely to be acceptable to Beijing.
Withdrawal of the extradition bill is an important first step toward a free and prosperous Hong Kong, but it is by no means the end of the road. Many pro-Beijing, business, and establishment leaders will say that the reason for the protests has been removed, so the pro-democracy movement should stop the protests, and Hong Kong should return to “normal.” The CCP state-run media will portray any continuing protests as unreasonable (well, they’ve portrayed the protests as violent and unreasonable all along). The pro-democracy movement should continue to protests for all of their demands to be met, but they must do so carefully, being mindful of public opinion. Right now, the protesters have broad support, both within Hong Kong and internationally. Loss of that support will hand Beijing the final victory, even if the protesters won the initial fight over the extradition bill.