Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, has announced she will formally withdraw the extradition bill that has sparked months of protests in the region.
She made the announcement in a video on Wednesday, saying: “The government will formally withdraw the bill, in order to fully allay public concerns.
“The secretary for security will move a motion… when the legislative council resumes.”
Protests in the former British colony began in June regarding the bill, which would have meant criminals could be extradited to the Chinese mainland.
The announcement comes only a day after Ms Lam insisted she never asked the Chinese government to let her resign to end the city’s political crisis – despite a leaked voice recording of her saying she would step down if she could.
Ms Lam has been facing increasing pressure over the draft legislation, which many see as an example of an attempt to erode the region’s autonomy.
There have been often-violent protests over the bill but they have since evolved into calls for more democracy in Hong Kong.
The withdrawal of the bill is one of the protesters’ five key demands and Ms Lam had previously said the bill was “dead” – but stopped short of fully removing the draft legislation.
Other demands from the protesters are: retracting the word “riot” from the description of rallies; the release of all arrested demonstrators; an independent enquiry into the police’s alleged brutality; and the right for the people of Hong Kong to democratically choose their own leaders.
Activist Joshua Wong, who has been a key voice in the protests, has responded to Ms Lam’s announcement, saying it is “too little, too late”, and accused her of being out of touch.
He added that he wants Ms Lam to address all five of the protesters’ demands, not just the withdrawal of the bill.
Hong Kong was returned to the Chinese government by the UK in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” rule, which meant the region could retain a level of relative autonomy.
Protesters in Hong Kong were angered by the extradition bill because it would have meant criminals could have been taken out of the city’s independent legal system and instead be tried in China – which was seen as evidence of Beijing’s creeping influence.
The mostly young protesters have previously said that a degree of violence is necessary to get the attention of the government, after peaceful rallies proved futile.
But Ms Lam has condemned the violence and said it has to end before a dialogue can begin.
The violence has also been criticised by Beijing, which says it will “not sit idly by” if the situation worsens.
The region’s Hang Seng index jumped by 3.3% following early reports that the bill would be withdrawn.
Analysis: This is a very important moment for Hong Kong – Tom Cheshire, Asia correspondent
The extradition bill was already “dead”, according to Carrie Lam. Formally withdrawing it, then, may seem only a cosmetic difference. But this is a very important moment for Hong Kong.
Protesters have five demands and the complete withdrawal of the bill was one of them.
Faced with dynamic and often violent revolt, the Hong Kong government has been stiff and passive. After each weekend of protest more extreme than the last, Lam has simply reiterated her talking points.
Leaks last week suggested that was because Beijing had vetoed meeting any of the protesters’ demands. And in leaked audio, Lam herself said on tape that she had little room for political manoeuvre.
She has now found some at least, in the tiniest of gaps. But after refusing for so long, even that is a big concession from the Hong Kong government and more importantly from Beijing, who we can safely assume had the sign off on this.
What effect will it have on the protests? After all, the extradition bill was the original reason for discontent.
It might have worked three months ago. Withdrawing the bill back in June would have had a huge impact and might have quelled the protests – then about a single issue. Over the weeks of demonstrations, though, protesters’ demands have increased from one to five.
Already, in online forums and secure messaging apps, protests are saying they have five demands, not one less. Withdrawing the bill alone will not send them off the streets back to home.
There is also deep distrust of the government. “Too little, too late,” tweeted Joshua Wong, one of the activists held in last week’s sweep of arrests. “We urge the world too to alert this tactic and not to be deceived by HK and Beijing Govt. They have conceded nothing in fact, and a full-scale clampdown is on the way.” He said Lam should meet all five demands.
Is that likely? Three of those demands will probably never be accepted: that protest should not be categorised as “riot”, that there should be an amnesty for arrested protesters, that proper democracy should be introduced to Hong Kong.
The other, for an independent enquiry into the police’s actions, is more achievable. It has become one of the protesters’ most pressing and important aims. If Lam were to offer that, along with the withdrawal, it could actually bring an end to Hong Kong’s long summer of discontent.
And Lam indeed came close(ish) to this, saying she would set up a committee to look at Hong Kong’s deep-seated problems. Nevertheless, it is not what protesters are asking for. And according to reports, Lam is deeply reluctant to examine the police’s role.
But the crucial point is that this is the most responsive we have seen Hong Kong’s government and, by extension, Beijing itself.
You have to wonder why. Perhaps the Chinese Communist Party is being cynical, and sees this as an essentially semantic compromise, not a meaningful concession, one which might nevertheless deflate protests.
Even today the chairman of Cathay Pacific resigned – another sign of the mainland’s increasing control of the Hong Kong, only weeks after the airline’s CEO also walked.
But I think, although Lam’s concession feels small to protesters, it will feel much bigger to Beijing. Even appearing to compromise seemed unimaginable two weeks ago. Political room that previously didn’t exist has now opened up. And that offers hope for a resolution that doesn’t involve the People’s Liberation Army on the streets of Hong Kong.