In June when millions first poured into the streets in peaceful protest, a promise to ditch the law might well have muted the burgeoning popular uprising. But Lam is only acting after months of police brutality, thug attacks on protesters, mass arrests, and barely veiled threats of security intervention from mainland China.
“This is a government which has backed police abuses, threatened to use unlimited emergency powers, banned peaceful assemblies and arrested more than 1,000 protesters,” said Kenneth Chan, a professor at Hong Kong Baptist University and former lawmaker. “Having gone through all this, few could thank Carrie Lam today.”
Over the last three months, a movement born out of concerns over one law has morphed into something much broader. Demonstrators have drawn up a list of five key demands, including a public inquiry into police violence, amnesty for arrested protesters and democratic reforms to bring universal suffrage.
Many protesters saw Beijing’s concession as meeting only the “easiest and ‘cheapest’” of their five demands, said Lokman Tsui, an assistant professor at the journalism school of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
“In the last few weeks the bill hasn’t been on most protesters’ minds, actually,” he said. “Instead it’s the government’s response to the protests, the way they tried to silence and suppress the protesters – by using teargas, inappropriate levels of force, arresting people for protesting etc – that is at the heart of the ongoing protests.”
The law would have allowed any resident or visitor to Hong Kong to be sent to mainland China to face trial in opaque, politically controlled courts, in effect destroying the legal firewall that underpins Hong Kong’s economy and its political freedoms.