Bill withdrawal a positive step by HK - GulfToday

Bill withdrawal a positive step by HK

Carrie-Lam_750

Carrie Lam

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam’s announcement of the withdrawal of the extradition bill that triggered months of often-violent protests may not immediately see an end to demonstrations, but certainly is a positive step.

The unrest that has continued for months has thrown the city into its worst crisis in decades and residents have been put to much hardship.

The withdrawal of the reviled extradition bill has been one of the key demands of pro-democracy protesters.

Although some in Hong Kong may view the bill’s withdrawal as too little too late, the fact remains that any constructive action to address an issue of such magnitude should be welcomed and not viewed as a prestige issue.  

The Hong Kong stock market also soared 4%, boosted by reports of the bill’s withdrawal.

The protests that began in March snowballed in June and have since evolved into a push for greater democracy for the city.

Though Lam insists that the government would not accept other demands, including an independent inquiry into alleged police misconduct and the unconditional release of those detained, she has dropped hints of more dialogue.

“We must find ways to address the discontent in society and look for solutions,” she stated in a video statement on Wednesday evening. “After more than two months of social unrest, it is obvious to many that this discontentment extends far beyond the bill.”

Her plan to invite community leaders, professionals and academics to examine deep-seated problems in the society and advise the government on solutions is a step in the right direction. What can be better than replacing conflicts with conversations?

As far as the protesters are concerned, Lam’s decision does not seem to have had a major impact.  

Prominent pro-democracy youth activist Joshua Wong has stated that the government in Beijing hopes to cool down the protests by withdrawing the bill, “But our determination and courage to fight for freedom will still continue.”

Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo insists that the protesters are adamant that all their demands, including calls for direct elections, are fulfilled. She has mocked Lam’s bid to seek dialogue to address public grievances.

Lam has come under withering criticism for pushing the extradition bill, which many in Hong Kong see as an example of the city’s eroding autonomy since the former British colony returned to Chinese control in 1997.

A pro-Beijing committee of Hong Kong elites elected her as Hong Kong’s chief executive and the mainland government has spoken in support of her government and the city’s police force throughout the protests.

Distressingly, recent clashes between police and protesters have become increasingly violent, with demonstrators throwing gasoline bombs and rods at officers in protests last weekend.

Authorities, in turn, have employed water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets and batons. More than 1,100 people have been detained.

The prolonged protests have hurt Hong Kong’s economy amid a slowdown in the Chinese economy and its trade war with the United States.

Hotel occupancy rates are down “double-digit” percentages, as were visitor arrivals. Group tour bookings from the short-haul market have plunged up to 50 per cent. The tourism industry says it feels under siege.

A drop in visitors hunting for bargains has hit the retail sector. Shops have often been forced to shutter.

The best way out is for all parties to engage in sincere dialogue to settle the pending issues. The city has to move forward.