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Beijing says it firmly supports Carrie Lam

2019-06-17 HKT 16:54
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  • The mass protests are a rejection of the idea that Hong Kong will be some day fully absorbed into the mainland, says one expert. Photo: AFP
    The mass protests are a rejection of the idea that Hong Kong will be some day fully absorbed into the mainland, says one expert. Photo: AFP
Beijing reiterated its backing of Hong Kong's embattled leader Carrie Lam on Monday after a massive demonstration demanding that she resign over a controversial extradition bill.

"The central government will continue to firmly support the Chief Executive and efforts by the government of the Special Administrative Region to govern according to law," foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said.

He also said the protests are "not in line with the mainstream public opinion in Hong Kong."

"Many facts have shown that foreign governments and even some politicians have been making inflammatory remarks since the decision of the Hong Kong government to start amending the extradition ordinance in February," Lu said.

But despite this backing, some analysts said the suspension of the bill following mass rallies is a rare setback for President Xi Jinping.

"It's a massive repudiation of the idea that Hong Kong will be effectively, over time, fully absorbed into mainland China," said Bill Bishop, publisher of the Sinocism China Newsletter.

"The party under Xi has become more worrisome and that's certainly a rejection of not just Xi but the party overall," Bishop said.

Beijing has sought to distance itself from the unrest, saying the bill was the brainchild of the Hong Kong government and portraying the violent demonstrations last week as a "riot" backed by foreign forces, while censors have worked to block discussion on social media.

Experts say Lam would not have pushed the legislation without guidance from her backers on the mainland.

But Xi himself has been physically distant: Away on a visit to Central Asia as protests turned violent on Wednesday, and returning on Sunday evening when hundreds of thousands flooded the streets again.

"This is a defeat for Xi Jinping," said Victoria Hui, a native Hong Konger and associate professor in political science at the University of Notre Dame in the United States.

"People don't believe that Carrie Lam would on her own accord try to rush through something that is not even in the Basic Law," Hui said.

The state-run China Daily said in an editorial that the bill was put on hold "so as to remove the excuse for the violence being instigated by those who do not have [Hong Kong's] best interests at heart."

Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, said the extradition bill's suspension showed that Communist leaders "got scared" about the protest movement's potential repercussions for the mainland.

While Beijing will avoid an obvious harsh crackdown so as to not inflame tensions, it will still apply pressure in more subtle ways, according to analysts.

"You will see a redoubling of efforts by the party to squeeze Hong Kong in ways that are not necessarily going to be totally obvious," publisher Bishop said.

The role of the Communist Party and its organisations will likely intensify in Hong Kong, he added.

Authorities will likely adopt the same tactic used following the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement that shook the city in 2014 by arresting protest leaders, analysts said.

"Xi must be very tough. He won't give in easily," said Beijing-based political analyst Hua Po, noting that the extradition bill was merely suspended, not dropped. (AFP)