Although only one of five demands from demonstrators has been met, the withdrawal of a controversial extradition bill is a significant victory for Hong Kong protesters.
The move is unlikely to be enough, however, and the mostly peaceful protests that have drawn up to 2 million people to Hong Kong’s streets will likely continue.
The scrapped legislation — which would have allowed extradition from Hong Kong to China’s brutal judicial system — and the justifiable calls for an independent investigation into heavy-handed police tactics and other issues are not at the root of the unrest.
No, fundamentally the protests are about something more profound: The promise from Beijing at the time of Hong Kong’s handover from Great Britain in 1997 that it would be ruled under the rubric of “one country, two systems.”
Instead, Beijing increasingly controls Hong Kong, including its chief executive, Carrie Lam, who in what she assumed was an off-the-record moment last week said that she would quit her post “if I have a choice.”
Citizens of Hong Kong, like people everywhere, deserve a choice about their lives and about leaders such as Lam. That’s why one of the protest movement’s other key demands — more direct democracy — is so valid.
But even if Beijing blinked regarding the extradition law, Chinese President Xi Jinping said in a speech to rising Communist Party officials on Tuesday that “on matters of principle, not an inch will be yielded, but on matters of tactics there can be flexibility.”
Matters of principle should matter to free people everywhere, especially in Washington. But President Donald Trump has sent inconsistent signals regarding the protests, seeming to prioritize striking a trade deal with Xi than standing up for democracy.
Some lawmakers have, however, found their voice. Notably, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tweeted on Wednesday that “any attempt by the Chinese government to crush a peaceful attempt by Hong Kongers to maintain their rights would require a significant response from the United States. The Chinese government is playing with fire, but hopefully they do not go too far.”
It’s our hope that more leaders in the U.S. and elsewhere will send similar signals to the citizens of Hong Kong — and the government of China.