Hong Kong Expected to Delay Extradition Bill Before Protests

Carol Zhong, Blake Schmidt and Shawna Kwan
Hong Kong Expected to Delay Extradition Bill Before Protests

(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam is expected to delay consideration of a China-backed extradition bill Saturday as the city girds for another mass protest over the measure this weekend. 

Lam will hold a press conference at 3 p.m. on Saturday, her office said in a statement. She is set to "pause" consideration of the bill, the South China Morning Post and several other media outlets reported, citing unidentified sources. The decision came after Beijing officials met in neighboring Shenzhen to resolve the standoff, the paper said.

The Civil Human Rights Front, which organized a mass demonstration that drew hundreds of thousands of people into the streets last weekend, said it had applied for police permission to stage a similar event. The move comes as allies of Lam began questioning her tactics and lawmakers postponed debate on a controversial extradition bill until at least next week.

On Friday, one of Lam’s top advisers said her administration underestimated the amount of opposition to the bill, casting doubt on whether the law could be rushed through before the end of the legislative period next month. The government is considering options including a pause, rather than withdrawing the bill, the South China Morning Post reported, citing unidentified sources.

“I think it is impossible to discuss under such confrontation. It’s highly difficult," Executive Council convener Bernard Chan said on Hong Kong’s RTHK radio. “At least these days, we shouldn’t intensify such confrontation.”

Lam has insisted on pushing ahead with the bill, despite protests that have drawn hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets over concerns it would further strengthen Beijing’s grip over Hong Kong. While only a few protesters were still near the legislature on Friday, Lam called off an appearance at a technology conference organized by the Wall Street Journal, organizers said.

Concerns

“So far everybody is very unhappy with the way the government handled it,” Felix Chung, who represents the textile and garments industries as a pro-establishment member of Hong Kong’s legislature, said in a phone interview. “I believe most people in Hong Kong do not agree with the reasons why it has to be that rushed.”

The police hadn’t yet responded to the Civil Human Rights Front’s request for a permit to march from Victoria Park in the city’s Tin Hau area about 3 kilometers to the government headquarters. The group said they don’t see any reason why police should refuse their request because their events have been peaceful.

Critics say passing the extradition legislation could prompt the U.S. to reconsider the city’s special trading status, drive away foreign companies and imperil critics of the Communist Party.

Bolstering those concerns, a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, reintroduced the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. Among other provisions, the measure threatens to freeze U.S. assets of individuals involved in forcibly removing people from Hong Kong. Such individuals also could be denied travel visas.

Hong Kong Risks Occupy 2.0 as Tear Gas Envelops Heart of City

Hong Kong’s General Chamber of Commerce, which says it represents businesses employing a third of the local workforce, said large-scale protests show the public has “serious apprehensions” about the bill.

“We sincerely urge the government to continue to listen to stakeholders and engage in meaningful dialog with the public,” Aron Harilela, the group’s chairman, said in a statement, adding that it agrees with the underlying principle of the bill.

“We call for restraint from all parties to ensure that this issue will not undermine business confidence in Hong Kong and our international reputation,” Chamber CEO Shirley Yuen added, according to a statement.

‘150 Rounds’

Images beamed from the protest Wednesday showed police beating back protesters with batons and crowds running from clouds of tear gas near some of the world’s most recognizable skyscrapers, in an area home to multinational companies, luxury hotels, banks and the U.S. Consulate. Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority confirmed that 72 people had been injured.

Hong Kong’s Extradition Law, From Grisly Murder to Mass Protests

The government’s headquarters was closed through Friday, but several main thoroughfares shut down by Wednesday’s standoff were reopened. Hong Kong Police Commissioner Stephen Lo said officers had acted in accordance with guidelines Wednesday and had shot 150 rounds of tear gas at protesters. He said 22 police had been injured.

Opposition lawmakers have repeatedly called for Lam to withdraw the bill. Lam on Wednesday made an emotional defense of the proposal, which she argues is necessary to prevent the city from becoming a refuge for fugitives.

China on Thursday repeated its position that Hong Kong’s affairs should remain “purely internal” and condemned what it said was protester violence.

“No society ruled by law can tolerate such behavior,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters in Beijing, repeating its support for Hong Kong’s government.

Force Condemned

Pelosi, the U.S. House speaker, said Wednesday that the Hong Kong bill’s passage would lead the U.S. to review the city’s special trading privileges. U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt spoke with Lam on Thursday and called on Hong Kong to engage in a dialogue with protesters. The city was returned from British rule in 1997.

President Donald Trump said he was confident Hong Kong and China would resolve their differences over it. “I’m sure they’ll be able to work it out,” he said.

Earlier: Pelosi Vows to Review Hong Kong Trade Ties Over Extradition Bill

Chung, the Hong Kong pro-establishment lawmaker, said opponents of the bill were exaggerating its pitfalls and protections were added to safeguard against misuse. The statements by foreign governments questioning the bill have only fueled Beijing’s resolve to pass it even though “it’s not such a big deal to delay it or make amendments,” he said.

“Now it’s been raised to an international, diplomatic level,” Chung said. “That is why the central government and Hong Kong are standing so firm on this bill now.”

(Adds confirmation of press conference in second paragraph.)

--With assistance from Stephen Engle, Kelly Belknap, Peter Martin, Erik Wasson and Shelly Banjo.

To contact the reporters on this story: Carol Zhong in Hong Kong at yzhong71@bloomberg.net;Blake Schmidt in Hong Kong at bschmidt16@bloomberg.net;Shawna Kwan in Hong Kong at wkwan35@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brendan Scott at bscott66@bloomberg.net, Daniel Ten Kate, Karen Leigh

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.