HONG KONG – Hong Kong’s government doesn’t see any benefit in conceding to more demands from protesters, according to a top adviser to Chief Executive Carrie Lam, though the increasingly violent demonstrations are unlikely to stop anytime soon.
Radical demonstrators — some of whom have lobbed gasoline bombs at police and vandalized subway stations in recent weeks — won’t give up their struggle even if the government meets all of their demands, said Bernard Chan, convener of the city’s Executive Council.
The city has been gripped by historic pro-democracy rallies that have stretched into a fourth month. What began as pushback against legislation allowing extraditions to China has shifted into calls for greater democratic freedoms.
In addition to the withdrawal of the extradition bill, Hong Kong’s demonstrators have also called for an independent inquiry into the violence, an amnesty for those charged during the unrest, rescinding the categorization of participants as “rioters” and the implementation of full universal suffrage. Tens of thousands marched in the city center over the weekend, some chanting, “Five demands, not one less.”
Chan spoke after another weekend of protests descended into violence, less than two weeks since Lam’s government made its most significant concession to date by announcing it would formally withdraw the controversial bill that kicked off the movement. While that met one of the five demands called for by protesters, it did little to quell the unrest.
U.S. lawmakers are considering passing legislation that would sanction Chinese officials responsible for abducting or extraditing anyone from Hong Kong to the mainland. It would also seek to safeguard the autonomy that underpins special trading privileges for Hong Kong, which are crucial to its economy.
Although moderate protesters may be swayed by moves to address social inequality, their die-hard peers are unlikely to give up, he said.
“No one is foolish enough to think that the more violent, more radicalized ones will dissipate anytime soon — I’m afraid that this might drag on for a while,” Chan said in an interview this week. “They give the impression that it’s the five demands they want, and they’ll walk. Come on, we all know that’s not true. The five demands may be just the outset. The underlying issues are about all the other social issues we’re facing in Hong Kong.”
Chan said amnesty for people charged with crimes is a “no go” in order to preserve the rule of law. Launching a formal inquiry would take too long — possibly years — and wouldn’t do anything to solve the immediate crisis, he added. “It sounds good, it might be a good diversion, but it’s not solving the problem,” Chan said.
Lam’s government is intent on addressing the social inequality that it believes is the root cause of the protests, Chan said, despite many protesters insisting their real grievance is Hong Kong’s lack of real democracy. He said he hoped Lam’s efforts to engage in dialogue with residents will help end demonstrations, but added that the movement’s leaderless nature has complicated that process.
He also said many people didn’t want to be seen meeting Lam, whose popularity has plunged as unrest worsens.
“Some people have accused her of hiding. It’s not true. She’s been seeing people every day since June, but funnily enough, many would prefer not to be seen meeting her,” he said. “I guess they’re afraid people might question, ‘Why you? Why are you seeing her? Are you representing us?'”