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People attend a rally in support of demonstrators protesting against the proposed extradition bill with China, in Hong Kong on Thursday (Reuters)
People attend a rally in support of demonstrators protesting against the proposed extradition bill with China, in Hong Kong on Thursday (Reuters)

Opinion | A long haul for Hong Kong

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam announced on Wednesday the withdrawal of the contentious extradition bill that had roiled the territory for months

In a major concession to protesters, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam announced on Wednesday the withdrawal of the contentious extradition bill that had roiled the territory for months. The proposed law, which would have allowed the extradition of suspects to mainland China for trial, had plunged Hong Kong into its worst political crisis since the former British colony returned to Chinese control 22 years ago. Clearly, the act of withdrawal constitutes an olive branch extended by the government to protesters aimed at resolving the crisis, but the fact that it has been endorsed by China implies that the trouble is far from over.

While it was a popular demand to axe the controversial bill that set the stage for the protests, these have morphed since into a broad anti-government, pro-democracy movement. This is reflected in one of their demands: the introduction of universal suffrage. At present, Hong Kong’s chief executive is elected by a 1,200-member committee dominated by pro-Beijing politicians. A key demand of the demonstrators is that this easily-manipulable electoral college be replaced by a system in which everyone has a vote.

If proper democracy is the long-haul goal, pushing for such a change makes sense. But is this objective realistic? The clock is ticking on the one-country-two-systems framework that China shares with Hong Kong, and after 2047, under the current agreement, Beijing would legitimately be able to withdraw Hong Kong’s autonomy. Pro-democracy observers had hoped that Hong Kong’s influence would democratize the rest of China. On current trends, the reverse seems more likely. Prepare for sustained tension.

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