HONG KONG – Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam was set on Wednesday to withdraw the widely unpopular China extradition bill that sparked a tumultuous summer of unrest in the city, two people familiar with the matter said.
Hong Kong stocks jumped on reports – first published by the South China Morning Post, which cited anonymous government officials – of the planned legislation withdrawal by Lam.
The city’s benchmark Hang Seng Index rose more than 3 percent on Wednesday afternoon, on pace for its biggest one-day gain since November.
This apparent concession by Lam’s administration would meet one of five demands from the opposition movement and is likely aimed at weakening support for the protests from the wider population, though it isn’t clear how successful the move will be in reducing the tensions that have gripped the city for three months.
Protests against the bill in June led Lam to suspend the legislation – which would have allowed citizens to be sent for trial in mainland China’s opaque justice system – but her failure to formally scrap the proposal has fueled mass peaceful protests and more violent hard-core activists who have clashed with police.
The protests have now morphed into a broader opposition movement with additional demands, including an inquiry into the Hong Kong Police Force’s handling of the demonstrations and calls for greater democracy, which has angered Beijing.
On Tuesday, China’s top office for Hong Kong affairs said it had legal power to unilaterally declare a state of emergency in the city if unrest continues unabated, while laying out specific measures for the city’s leader to address protests.
The comments came amid hints of tensions and disagreements between Lam and her bosses in Beijing over what should be done to try to allay widespread public sentiment against the government in the former British colony.
In a press conference earlier on Tuesday, Lam had insisted her government can deal with the long-running protests.
The chief executive also said she had never tendered her resignation and was committed to pulling the city out of the political crisis.
Lam said she was disappointed that comments she made at a recent closed-door meeting with businesspeople – in which she lamented the difficulties of serving both the central government and the people of Hong Kong – had been leaked and published by the news agency Reuters.
Beijing officials said they saw the situation in Hong Kong as taking a positive turn recently as more sections of society denounce violence and reiterated their backing for Lam to resolve the protests, which have rocked the city and damaged its economy during the past three months.
Beijing made clear that it is laying the groundwork to step in if needed: Chinese officials floated a slate of detailed measures for a crackdown, including raising the idea of outlawing masks for Hong Kong protesters and saying that teachers who encouraged students to protest must be punished for their “heinous crime.”