Mon, Sep 02, 2019 - Page 7 News List

Beijing rejected Hong Kong plan to mollify protesters: sources

By James Pomfret and Greg Torode  /  Reuters, HONG KONG

Earlier this summer, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) submitted a report to Beijing that assessed protesters’ five key demands and found that withdrawing a contentious extradition bill could help defuse the mounting political crisis in the territory.

The Chinese central government rejected Lam’s proposal to withdraw the extradition bill and ordered her not to yield to any of the protesters’ other demands at that time, three individuals with direct knowledge of the matter said.

China’s role in directing how Hong Kong handles the protests has been widely assumed, supported by stern statements in state media about the country’s sovereignty and protesters’ “radical” goals.

Beijing’s rebuff of Lam’s proposal for how to resolve the crisis, detailed for the first time by Reuters, represents concrete evidence of the extent to which China is controlling the Hong Kong government’s response to the unrest.

The Chinese central government has condemned the protests and accused foreign powers of fueling unrest.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has repeatedly warned other nations against interfering in Hong Kong, reiterating that the situation there is an “internal affair.”

Lam’s report on the tumult was made before an Aug. 7 meeting in Shenzhen about the Hong Kong crisis, led by senior Chinese officials.

The report examined the feasibility of the protesters’ five demands, and analyzed how conceding to some of them might quieten things down, the individuals with direct knowledge said.

In addition to the withdrawal of the extradition bill, the other demands analyzed in the report were: an independent inquiry into the protests; fully democratic elections; dropping of the term “riot” in describing protests; and dropping charges against those arrested so far.

The withdrawal of the bill and an independent inquiry were seen to be the most feasible politically, according to a senior government official in the Hong Kong administration, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

He said the move was envisioned as helping pacify some of the more moderate protesters who have been angered by Lam’s silence.

The extradition bill is one of the key issues that has helped drive the protests, which have drawn millions of people into the streets of Hong Kong.

Lam has said the bill is “dead,” but has refused to say explicitly that it has been “withdrawn.”

Beijing told Lam not to withdraw the bill, or to launch an inquiry into the tumult, including allegations of excessive police force, according to the senior government official.

Another of the three individuals, who has close ties with senior officials in Hong Kong and also declined to be identified, confirmed the Hong Kong government had submitted the report.

“They said no” to all five demands, the source said. “The situation is far more complicated than most people realize.”

The third individual, a senior Chinese official, said that the Hong Kong government had submitted the report to the Central Coordination Group for Hong Kong and Macau Affairs, a high-level group led by Politburo Standing Committee member Han Zheng (韓正), and that Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) was aware of it.

The official confirmed that Beijing had rejected giving in to any of the protesters’ demands and wanted Lam’s administration to take more initiative.

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