Carrie Lam has made a first small concession to the Hong Kong protest movement. Colin Sparks reports that, so far, this attempt to split ‘radicals’ and ‘moderates’ has not succeeded.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam conceded the first of the protest movement’s demands in a television address at 18.00 on Wednesday. She announced that her government was going formally to withdraw the proposal to establish an Extradition Law that would allow people in Hong Kong to be deported to the mainland to face trial in courts that almost automatically convict the accused. Dropping this bill was the first of the five original demands of the movement that has shaken Hong Kong for the last three months. In a small way, it is a victory.
But it is a very small victory. Lam made no concessions on any of the other demands. Instead of announcing an independent inquiry into police action she simply put a couple more establishment figures on to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which is about as independent from the police as Carrie Lam is from the Beijing government. She refuses to drop the claim that the protests were ‘riots’ and refused an amnesty for the 1,183 people who had been arrested up until Wednesday. She denies she has ever suggested resigning and her promises to discuss democratization are cast far in the future when the protests have been demobilized.
The move is a crude attempt to split the movement into ‘moderate’ and ‘radical’ factions. Carrie Lam, and her puppet masters in Beijing, think that by making a tiny concession they can persuade some of the leaders of the movement, and even many of the ordinary supporters, that the battle is over and that they should no longer support the radical fighters who have borne the brunt of the struggle. The movement is certainly very diverse. Its supporters range from bourgeois democrats like convenor of the Pan-Democratic Bloc of legislators Claudia Mo through to the young revolutionaries of Socialist Action. The government hope that concessions will satisfy the moderates and open the road for even harsher repression against the radicals.
So far, the concessions have been a miserable failure. While business groups like the Chinese Manufacturers Association and the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong have welcomed the move, it has been scorned right across the political spectrum. Claudia Mo rejected them as: ‘small measures.’ Joshua Wong, the young leader of the rather more radical Demosisto, said:
In the face of police brutality … the protests by Hongkongers will continue even if the extradition bill is withdrawn. We stick to our insistence that all of our five demands must be met and this is our resolution.
Anonymous black-clad demonstrators were even more uncompromising. In an impromptu press conference one of their number told journalists: ‘Only when all five of our demands are met shall we stop our fight.’ He went on to say:
That Carrie Lam made the concession today shows that the strategy of cooperation between radicals and moderates, seeking international attention while piling pressure locally on the government, has worked.
Even pro-Beijing lawmaker Paul Tse said that the concession was: ‘too little, too late.’ There is today no sign of any split between moderates and radicals.
Meanwhile, popular mobilizations against the police and the MTR continue to bubble away across the territory. On Wednesday night crowds gathered at Po Lam station demanding to know why it had been arbitrarily closed on 31 August. In Mong Kok, hundreds of people demonstrated outside the police station. Unsubstantiated rumours of extreme police brutality circulate widely alongside well-documented cases of beatings and arbitrary arrests. There is no sign of the movement dying down and it is likely that the coming weekend will see more huge and militant protests. These concessions are indeed small and completely inadequate, but they would never have been made without the sustained mass pressure of the last 12 weeks. They are the first, very tiny, sign of government weakness. If the movement can stay united, and keep up the pressure, then more can be won and the threat of outside intervention reduced.