Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has delayed indefinitely a proposed law that would allow extraditions to mainland China, in a dramatic retreat after widespread anger over the bill sparked the biggest street protests in three decades.
The extradition bill, which will cover Hong Kong’s 7 million residents and foreign and Chinese nationals living or travelling in the city, has many concerned it may threaten the rule of law that underpins Hong Kong’s international financial status.
The proposal, and official refusals to back down, have sparked growing outrage in the business, diplomatic and legal communities, which fear corrosion of the legal autonomy of Hong Kong and the difficulty of guaranteeing a fair trial in China.
Cracks began to appear on Friday in the support base for the extradition bill with several pro-Beijing politicians and a senior advisor to Lam saying discussion of the bill should be shelved for the time being.
Around a million people, according to protest organisers, marched through Hong Kong last Sunday to oppose the bill. Protests that continued through the week were met with tear gas, bean bag rounds and rubber bullets from police, plunging the city into turmoil and piling heavy pressure on Lam.
The protest in the former British colony was the biggest political demonstration since its return to Chinese rule in 1997 under the “one country, two systems” deal. The agreement guarantees Hong Kong’s special autonomy, including freedom of assembly, free press and independent judiciary.
Beyond the public outcry, the extradition bill had spooked some of Hong Kong’s tycoons into starting to move their personal wealth offshore, according to financial advisers, bankers and lawyers familiar with the details.