Carrie Lam personally apologises to Hongkongers, refuses to confirm extradition bill’s withdrawal
She also backtracked on the use of the word "rioters".
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has personally apologised to the Hong Kong people for the controversial extradition bill that sparked widespread opposition in the city in the past week.
The proposed bill would effectively allow criminal suspects, both Hong Kong citizens and foreigners, to be sent to mainland China.
In a press conference held at 4pm on Tuesday, June 18, Lam said she personally has to “shoulder much of the responsibility” for the protests that have broken out over the bill.
“I offer my most sincere apology to all the people of Hong Kong,” she added.
Almost two million Hongkongers took to the streets on Sunday, June 16, to protest against the suspension of the bill, which Lam announced the day before on June 15.
This is her second apology thus far.
On Saturday, June 15, she apologised for the way the government had handled the proposed bill, and also announced that the bill would be suspended for now.
However, protesters were not satisfied with the concession and proceeded to hold the largest protest to date the next day on June 16.
Avoided saying the bill was withdrawn
Although Lam was asked several times on why she is refusing to withdraw the bill, she refused to budge.
Carrie Lam just got asked the 7th time why not retract. Still no budging. Again and again, she refuses to set up any independent committee to respond to police violence, saying that there are existing mechanisms in place
— Chris Lau (@hkchrislau) June 18, 2019
Lam also said she she had already explained herself, and would make no further comment.
It is unlikely that the Legislative Council would bring the bill up again before the end of their term in July 2020.
The Guardian reported that Lam had said in private a day before the press conference that the bill was effectively dead.
Backtracked on the use of “rioters”
In response to a question from a reporter from South China Morning Post (SCMP), Lam said the Hong Kong government had never said the protesters, especially the students, are “rioters”.
Previously, they had described the demonstrations on June 12 as “riots”.
However, Lam said that the word is used to describe a certain group of people only.
She added that those protesters who never engaged in violent acts should not be worried.
Rioting in Hong Kong carries a heavier penalty.
In response to calls for her to resign, Lam said she has been listening to the protesters “very attentively and carefully”.
In addition, she said that the government has recognised the anxiety and fear caused by the bill among the Hong Kong people, and reiterated that it would not go through with it without first addressing such concerns.
Lam also said she was simply following police commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung in using the word to describe the protests.
Fears of erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy
Lam has been heavily criticised for trying to push the bill through the legislature.
Many see the proposed bill as a threat to the last remnant of insulation Hong Kong has from Beijing’s influence.
They worry that the law, if passed, will allow Beijing to freely target political dissidents.
A series of disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers in 2015, who later turned up in the mainland under the control of Chinese authorities, have intensified these fears.
In addition, police treatment of the protesters and reporters have sparked fears that civil liberties are quickly being eroded in the city.
Top image via Apple Daily HK