The massive upheaval in Hong Kong over an extradition bill that would allow Hong Kong residents to be extradited to the mainland has come at a less than opportune moment for the People’s Republic of China. The extradition bill was purportedly initiated by the Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam without guidance from Beijing. The bill sparked a week of major protests and violent clashes between protesters and police across the city. On Saturday, Lam suspended the bill indefinitely, an act she had hoped would satiate the protesters and bring the city back to normalcy.
That was not to be the case, however. Sunday brought the largest protest Hong Kong has seen since 1997. Central Hong Kong was flooded with two million people according to the protest organizers, though police figures were substantially lower. With the extradition bill now off the table, demonstrators called for Lam’s resignation. Although the ire of Hongkongers has been directed at Lam, the real challenge is being laid at the feet of China’s leadership in Beijing.
China’s President Xi Jinping has been attempting to project the image of a powerful, stable nation as it contends with an economic slowdown, and a trade war with the United States. The Hong Kong protests are in direct contrast to that image. When Xi goes to the G-20 summit at the end of the month it will be the recent events still relatively fresh in the minds of his peers. With China’s image so important at the moment, how Xi is perceived at the summit will be watched closely.
The suspension of the extradition bill in Hong Kong is not the end game. Beijing is keenly aware that the dissent in Hong Kong society has been reawakened and is united. A new approach has to be found to take their existing rights, and freedoms away without running the risk of large-scale turmoil which will draw the attention of the world.