The Hong Kong government is working to defuse the crisis over its extradition bill by considering options including a pause, rather than a withdrawal, sources have told the Post.
But while several heavyweight advisers to the city’s leader are calling for more time for further discussion of the bill, divisions have emerged within the Executive Council, with others suggesting the government should continue to fast track it through the legislature.
Exco convenor Bernard Chan said it would be impossible to rush the amended legislation through, while Dr Lam Ching-choi and Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun have both advocated taking a step back.
Ronny Tong Ka-wah said he would not object to deferral and called for both sides to start a dialogue and find a middle-ground solution, while his colleague Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee insisted the government should push ahead with the bill.
They were among a chorus of voices on Friday advising Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, just two days after she insisted there would be no changes to the government’s proposals.
“I think it is impossible to discuss [the bill] under such confrontation. It would be very difficult,” Chan said. “At the very least we should not escalate the antagonism.”
Chan advised the government to re-evaluate the situation in light of the violent clashes between police and young protesters after a mass rally against the bill brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets.
He also admitted to underestimating the backlash from the business community over the proposed legislation, which would allow the transfer of fugitives to jurisdictions that Hong Kong does not have an extradition agreement with, including mainland China.
Chan was speaking two days after tens of thousands of protesters – mostly in their 20s – brought part of the city to a standstill by occupying key roads in Admiralty to besiege the legislature and prevent it from debating the bill.
The protest ended in clashes with police, which left more than 80 people injured as officers fired tear gas, rubber bullets and beanbag rounds to disperse the crowd. Eleven people were arrested.
“What happened on Wednesday is saddening and is not something that we would want to see,” Chan said in a radio phone-in programme. “We indeed need to review what to do.
“Our first task right now is on how to mollify the public to avoid more clashes in future.”
Asked if the government should press the pause button for the bill, he said it would depend on the chances of getting the bill passed, but he also did not want to see the legislature paralysed by a single piece of legislation.
Before the protests escalated on Wednesday, Carrie Lam had insisted the government would push ahead with the bill.
Lam Ching-choi, also chairman of the Elderly Commission, dismissed suggestions the bill was a mission that must be accomplished.
Asked if the legislation could be deferred, he said: “The government would consider every options. The government is not intransigent, and like any other it is also flesh and blood, and would sense the atmosphere in society.”
He said the government would not dismiss public views just because the legislation had progressed to the second reading stage.
“A responsible government should never act in such way,” Lam Ching-choi said, adding he hoped a peaceful consensus could be reached.
Law, another executive councillor, said she supported the bill, and accepted the collective responsibility of trying to pass it before the Legco summer recess.
As a former commissioner of the Independent Council Against Corruption, Law said she had a strong desire to see that justice is done, and to uphold Hong Kong’s rule of law.
“In the light of the violent protest and the strong reactions from the community, if the chief executive now decides to allow more time for discussion and to provide more safeguards to assure fair trials [abroad], I’ll support that,” Law said. “But, the bill should not be dropped altogether.”
Meanwhile, 22 former top officials and lawmakers issued an urgent appeal on Friday calling on Carrie Lam to withdraw the controversial bill.
In a written statement they also urged her advisers to counsel the chief executive to do so, and resign if their plea is ignored.
The signatories included former secretary for security Peter Lai Hing-ling, former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang, former deputy secretary for economic services Elizabeth Bosher and former Legco Senior Member Allen Lee Peng-fei.
“This is our future generation to be cherished, how can anyone with a heart not be pained to see the treatment they received?” the statement read.
“A deeply divided society, serious concerns of the international community – are these the sacrifices to be made to satisfy the will of the chief executive? What great public interest is supposed to be served by the hurried passage of this Bill?
“We call on the chief executive to yield to public opinion and withdraw the Bill for more thorough deliberation. We call on her governing team, including all principal officials and members of the Executive Council to do their duty to advise her so to do. Should their advice be ignored, we call upon them to resign.”
Lai, who was secretary for security from 1995 to 1998 and spearheaded the drafting of the existing extradition law which was passed by the Legislative Council in March 1997, said both sides needed to take a break to cool down.
“Withdrawing the bill for more thorough deliberation can serve this purpose. It is time for Hong Kong to have a cooling down period. Let frayed tempers settle before we resume discussion of this controversial issue,” he told the Post on Friday.
Meanwhile, a comment piece in the overseas edition of Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily said consensus was needed to get things done in a diverse society.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Eleven arrests, double the tear gas fired during Occupy movement and 81 injured: police chief paints disturbing picture of Hong Kong extradition bill protests
- Hong Kong protesters return to MTR stations urging passengers to disrupt trains, while calling on students to skip school and workers to go on strike
- Ex-Hong Kong minister calls on Carrie Lam to withdraw extradition bill after unrest
- Hong Kong protests against extradition bill may look like Occupy – but young, leaderless demonstrators have learned lessons from the past