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Protesters In Hong Kong Win, Extradition Bill Is Withdrawn

NOEL KING, HOST:

After months of protests in Hong Kong, the territory's chief executive, Carrie Lam, announced today that she is withdrawing the controversial extradition bill that set off the protests in the first place. She made this announcement in a video address.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CARRIE LAM: The government will formally withdraw the bill in order to fully allay public concerns.

KING: NPR's Emily Feng is following this story from Beijing. Hey, Emily.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Hi.

KING: So this is a big turnaround? How much of a surprise is it?

FENG: It is. It is a big surprise, especially given recent reporting that Carrie Lam was actually not in control over who made the final decision on whether to withdraw the bill. All of a sudden, today her press office released this video saying that they wanted to stop violence and restore rule of law and social order in Hong Kong. In the video that you just played, Lam said that Hong Kong had become an unfamiliar place for her, as protests have gotten more violent, and she was finding a way forward to establish common dialogue.

KING: Well, this makes me very curious - what you just said makes me curious about Carrie Lam's motive and whether or not this was an order given to her by China. China has a tremendous amount of pull in Hong Kong. They've been very upset about these protests. Do we get the sense that someone told her to do this?

FENG: We have no independent confirmation that that was the case. Reuters came out with a report earlier this week, though, with an audio recording from Lam herself, in which she seems to insinuate that she wanted to resign, but Beijing told her not to and that Beijing is the one calling the shots behind the extradition bill, not her.

KING: That's interesting. You just got back from Hong Kong. You were reporting on some of the most violent street protests. Do you get the impression, based on the people that you've talked to who are out in the streets, that this is going to end the protest movement once and for all, which is what China really wants?

FENG: No, it won't. Protests will almost certainly go forward. They may not be as violent as they were last weekend. But the issue is that protesters have been calling for five demands, not one less. And one of those demands certainly was withdrawal of the extradition bill. That was also the easiest demand to meet. They're also asking for an independent police inquiry into brutality from protests - from police against protesters. They're asking for direct elections. They're asking that all criminal charges be dropped against protesters who have been arrested.

And among those four other remaining charges beyond the extradition bill, Carrie Lam said in the video today that she would appoint two new members to an existing police inquiry body, but that she would not honor the request for an independent body and that she definitely could not withdraw criminal charges against protesters who were arrested because that would be breaking the rule of law.

KING: So the protesters have gotten some of what they want, and they have not gotten everything that they want. Do you think the protesters are dug in, at this point, enough to continue in a vein that's become violent over the past couple of weeks?

FENG: Well, protesters have been communicating over things like Telegram, the encrypted social media messaging app, and over other various Internet forums. And one of the most commonly circulated responses to Carrie Lam's video today has been, this is too little too late. In fact, one of the messages that has gone viral has been, if Carrie Lam withdraws, let's immediately organize a peaceful protest.

Joshua Wong, who is a very famous Hong Kong pro-democracy activist, tweeted today that Carrie Lam's actions to withdraw the bill are, quote, "too little too late. Her response comes after seven lives sacrificed and 1,200 protesters arrested." So there's still a lot of momentum from protesters to bring their grievances out into the street until their four remaining demands are addressed.

KING: Interesting, though, still calling for peaceful protests. I wonder, Emily, do you have a sense of what China's next move is if the protests do continue? I mean, a concession has been given. If people come out in the streets anyway, does China have a move here?

FENG: Over the weekend, when protests got more violent, Chinese state media, which is controlled by the Communist Party in China, vociferously pushed Lam to push - to approve what's called the Emergency Ordinance Regulation (ph). It's a British colonial law that lets Lam, as chief executive, pass any rule she thinks is in the public interest. And so that would give her more - a stronger legal tool to shut down the messaging apps that protesters have been using to organize and adopt more draconian methods to stop protesters.

So that's something Beijing has been pushing Carrie Lam to do, and it's something that she has on the table, and she said last week that that's something that she is considering.

KING: NPR's Emily Feng in Beijing. Emily, thanks so much.

FENG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.