Top aide: No benefit in yielding to more Hong Kong protest demands

Anti-government protesters gathering at Victoria Park in Hong Kong yesterday. The city has been gripped by pro-democracy rallies that have stretched into a fourth month.
Anti-government protesters gathering at Victoria Park in Hong Kong yesterday. The city has been gripped by pro-democracy rallies that have stretched into a fourth month.PHOTO: REUTERS

Chief Exec's leading adviser says protests unlikely to end soon, flags 'other social issues'

HONG KONG • Hong Kong's government does not see any benefit in conceding to more demands from protesters, and the increasingly violent demonstrations are unlikely to stop any time soon, according to a top adviser to leader Carrie Lam.

Radical demonstrators - some of whom have lobbed petrol bombs at police and vandalised subway stations - would not give up their struggle even if the government meets all of their demands, said Mr Bernard Chan, convener of the city's Executive Council.

While more moderate protesters may be swayed by moves to address social inequality, their radical peers are unlikely to give up, he said.

"No one is foolish enough to think that the more violent, more radicalised ones will dissipate any time soon - I'm afraid that this might drag on for a while," Mr Chan said in an interview this week.

"They give the impression that it's the five demands they want, and they'll walk... 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."

Mr Chan spoke after another weekend of protests descended into violence, less than two weeks since Mrs Lam's government made its most significant concession to date by announcing it would formally withdraw an extradition Bill that sparked the protest movement. While that met one of the five demands called for by protesters, it did little to quell the unrest.

The city has been gripped by pro-democracy rallies that have stretched into a fourth month. What began as a pushback against a proposed law allowing extraditions to China has shifted into calls for greater democratic freedoms.

US lawmakers are considering passing legislation that would sanction Chinese officials responsible for abducting or extraditing anyone from Hong Kong to mainland China. This would also seek to safeguard the autonomy that underpins special trading privileges for Hong Kong.

Besides the withdrawal of the extradition Bill, Hong Kong's demonstrators have also called for an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality, an amnesty for those charged during the unrest, rescinding the categorisation of participants as "rioters", and the implementation of full universal suffrage.

 
 
 
 

Mr Chan said amnesty for people charged with crimes was a "no go" as it violated Hong Kong's rule of law. Launching a formal inquiry would take too long, possibly years, and would not 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," Mr Chan said.

Mrs Lam's government is intent on addressing the social inequality believed to be the root cause of the unrest, Mr Chan said, despite many protesters insisting their real grievance is Hong Kong's lack of true democracy.

Mr Chan said he hoped Mrs Lam's efforts to engage in dialogue with residents will help end the protests, but added that the movement's leaderless nature has complicated that process. In a briefing on Tuesday, Mrs Lam said she will begin her dialogue with citizens next week.

However, Mr Chan said many people did not want to be seen meeting Mrs Lam, whose popularity has plunged as the 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.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2019, with the headline 'Top aide: No benefit in yielding to more HK protest demands'. Print Edition | Subscribe