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Controversial Extradition Bill Is Dead, Hong Kong Leader Lam Says


Hong Kong's chief executive says she is giving up an extradition bill. Carrie Lam had previously suspended the measure. Protesters, though, who had taken to the streets, weren't satisfied with this. So now Lam says the bill is dead. So is it a win for protesters? NPR's Julie McCarthy has been covering the story and joins us now. Julie, what do you make of it? How significant a shift is this?

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Well, I think taken as a whole, Rachel, it really sounds like a kinder, gentler way of saying no to the protesters and their demands. And this, in the face of the biggest challenge to the Beijing-controlled Hong Kong government in decades. Lam sounds as if she's trying to heal the rift. She wants to stop the turmoil. She's under a lot of pressure to do that, which she admits her government started when it pushed this extradition measure. Here's what she said today about the fate of that bill, acknowledging there's a trust problem.


CARRIE LAM: There are still lingering doubts about the government's sincerity or worries whether the government will restart the process in the Legislative Council. So I reiterate here, there is no such plan. The bill is dead.

MCCARTHY: Now, that sounds unambiguous, right?


MCCARTHY: But not to the ears of protesters, no.

MARTIN: Why? I mean, why doesn't that feel like a victory to them?

MCCARTHY: Well, it's a matter of semantics. The demonstrators said today the word dead - or suspended, another word Lam uses - has no legal meaning in the Legislative Council, which is Hong Kong's parliament. Withdrawal does have meaning. So use it. And when Lam spoke in Cantonese, she used the idiom meaning to die in one's bed at a ripe old age, referring to what's going to happen to this bill. And the implication is that it will not be revived in this year's session and therefore will simply die by the start of next year's. Now, a prominent protester, Joshua Wong, said stop the wordplay. If you're sincere, you'll withdraw it completely. Now, beyond the extradition bill, Lam rejected all of their other demands today.

MARTIN: All of the other demands. Like what?

MCCARTHY: Well, the demonstrators want amnesty for the protesters who've been arrested. Lam says no. The Department of Justice has to take its own course, and there'll be no interference. The demonstrators want authorities to retract the word riot to describe the protests. Lam says she didn't refer to the protesters that way. And the demonstrators demand an independent inquiry into allegations that the police used excessive force. Lam says a fact-finding by the police complaints commission is good enough. And the demonstrators say that body has no power to call witnesses so it's not adequate.

MARTIN: But it sounds like this entire episode has, as Lam even admits, just created this massive trust gap between the government and the residents who took to the streets there in Hong Kong. I mean, what happens now? I mean, she's not answering these grievances.

MCCARTHY: Right. And she's under - well, she's also under a great deal of pressure from Beijing to rein in the social upheaval. It looks bad and is bad for business in Hong Kong, which means it's bad for China. And it looks like it's headed back to the streets. The protesters have of a determination and a unity that won't be easily turned back. It's, in some ways, a perilous moment for Hong Kong. One legislator told me the world needs to be watching because if it is looking at Hong Kong, it has a better chance to be safe.

MARTIN: Is China - is mainland China, the government there, saying anything about this?

MCCARTHY: The government is denouncing these demonstrations. They are calling - they're calling them out. Last Monday, when the Legislative Council here, the parliament, was stormed, you heard fury coming out of Beijing. There is a sense that order is - yeah, order is being disrupted, and that's the last thing that Xi Jinping wants to have happen in Hong Kong.

MARTIN: NPR's Julie McCarthy. Thanks, Julie. We appreciate it.

MCCARTHY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Julie McCarthy has spent most of career traveling the world for NPR. She's covered wars, prime ministers, presidents and paupers. But her favorite stories "are about the common man or woman doing uncommon things," she says.