HK leader failed to gauge public mood - GulfToday

HK leader failed to gauge public mood

Carrie Lam

Carrie Lam

It has become clear that Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam greatly misjudged the public mood.

Though she has taken the rare step of apologising, it does not seem to have convinced the hundreds of thousands of black-clad protesters who have maintained calls for her to resign over her handling of a bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial.

She should have heeded suggestions by her advisers and pro-establishment lawmakers to delay the bill after Wednesday’s violence. So much so that now Beijing has visibly begun to distance itself from her administration.

Lam’s argument was that the extradition law was necessary to prevent criminals hiding in Hong Kong and that human rights would be protected by the city’s courts which would decide on any extradition on a case-by-case basis.

A government spokesman conceded that poor government work over the bill had led to substantial controversies and disputes in society, causing disappointment and grief.

Opposition to the extradition bill has united an unusually wide cross-section of Hong Kong, right from influential legal and business bodies to religious leaders. Huge crowds marching for hours in tropical heat demanding her resignation depict a sign of immense discontent.

Organisers claim that almost 2 million people marched in the Hong Kong protest on Sunday.

Saturday’s dramatic suspension of the bill was one of the most significant political retreats by the Hong Kong government since Britain returned the territory to China in 1997, and has thrown into question Lam’s ability to continue to lead the city.

The protests are also the largest in Hong Kong since Chinese Pressident Xi Jinping came to power in 2012 and pose a challenge to the leadership in Beijing just as they grapple with escalating trade tensions with Washington and slowing economic growth.

United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has implied that President Donald Trump will discuss the mass protests in Hong Kong with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at the upcoming G20 summit in a sign that the issue has drawn intense international attention.

Trump said last week he hoped the protesters would “work it out” with China, while stopping short of condemning the legislation which has now been suspended.

The city’s independent legal system was guaranteed under laws governing Hong Kong’s return from British to Chinese rule 22 years ago, and is seen by business and diplomatic communities as its strongest asset.

Hong Kong has been governed under a “one country, two systems” formula since then, allowing freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China but not a fully democratic vote.

It is unfortunate that several people were injured in this week’s unrest, including some police officers, with both sides sending signals to escalate their behaviour to levels unseen before in the usually stable business hub.

The extradition furore is the latest chapter in what many see as a battle for the soul of Hong Kong. Critics’ apprehension that the planned extradition law could threaten Hong Kong’s rule of law and its international reputation as an Asian financial hub is not unfounded.

The people of Hong Kong are sending a loud and clear message about the things they value most.

All those involved should resolve the issue peacefully and not allow violence on the streets of Hong Kong.

The authorities should handle the issue in a manner that safeguards democratic principles.