Top HK official pleads for end to demonstrations as protesters turn to G-20 for help

People gather outside of the Legislative Council building to protest in Hong Kong, on June 23, 2019.
People gather outside of the Legislative Council building to protest in Hong Kong, on June 23, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG - Ahead of the Group of 20 (G-20) meetings in Japan, Hong Kong’s number two official has called for an end to the protests in the territory as hundreds of demonstrators kept up pressure on the government to give in to their demands.

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung on Wednesday (June 26) also appealed to the public to give Chief Executive Carrie Lam a second chance.

Mrs Lam, who has been out of the public eye for more than a week, is reported to be holding meetings with officials to brainstorm ways to go forward, local media reported.

Offering no new response to the protesters’ demand for the controversial extradition Bill to be fully scrapped, Mr Cheung dismissed talk that the government is now paralysed.

“The purpose today here is to communicate ... to show we care ... and pledge to increase communication with the youth,” he said.

Hundreds of protesters took part in a silent march on Wednesday morning to dozens of consulates in the central business district in the hope that the United States, the European Union and Britain - which are attending the G-20 summit - would intervene and put pressure on China to fully scrap the Bill. The Hong Kong government  has thus far suspended it indefinitely. 

They also want G-20 countries to raise concerns about the city’s autonomy during their two-day summit in Osaka that begins on Friday.

Holding placards that said “Free Hong Kong from China colonisation” and “free Hong Kong, help Hong Kong”, the protesters handed in letters to representatives of the consulates.

 

Separately, the Civil Human Rights Front, the organiser of two massive rallies on June 9 and June 16, scheduled a “G-20 free Hong Kong” assembly at Edinburgh Place in Central on Wednesday night. 

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang yesterday urged Britain not to interfere in China’s internal affairs. 

This came after British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told Parliament on Tuesday that London would ban sales of tear gas to Hong Kong and called for an independent probe into police violence. 

On Monday, China’s assistant foreign minister Zhang Jun said “the Hong Kong issue” would not be discussed in Osaka as Beijing would not allow it to be discussed. He repeated that countries should not intervene in China’s internal affairs.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had indicated that US President Donald Trump might raise the mass rallies in Hong Kong with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping during their meeting in Osaka, during which both leaders are expected to discuss resuming negotiations on a trade deal.

To capture further international attention, Hong Kong residents have raised HK$5.4 million (S$937,000) to place ads on the extradition Bill on the front pages of leading international newspapers, including the Financial Times and the New York Times. 

The Bill, if passed, would allow Hong Kong to extradite people to several jurisdictions, including mainland China. Many in the territory remain wary of the opaque legal system on the mainland and fear the legislation would be used against critics of Beijing and political dissidents.

The Hong Kong government has pledged to stop work on the Bill until it expires at the end of the legislative session next year. But opponents say they will not stop protesting until it is withdrawn permanently.

Tensions over the divisive legislation peaked on June 12, the day it was to be read a second time in the Legislative Council, with thousands of protesters laying siege to the building and preventing lawmakers from entering. The day ended in violence as protesters and police clashed, leaving many people injured.

The protests have led Mrs Lam to apologise publicly twice, but she has refused to fully withdraw the Bill and still insists on taking protesters who breached the law on June 12 to task.