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Why Protests In Hong Kong Will Likely Continue Despite Some Key Demands Being Met

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The leader of Hong Kong is reversing course. Chief Executive Carrie Lam has formally withdrawn a controversial extradition bill. This is the one that has prompted months of protests. Lam also agreed to an investigation into police handling of the recent protests.

Well, to find out if these concessions will be enough to quiet the demonstrations, we have called Shibani Mahtani of The Washington Post. She is on the line now from Hong Kong.

Hey, there.

SHIBANI MAHTANI: Hi.

KELLY: So will these moves satisfy protesters, or is it too little, too late?

MAHTANI: Well, it appears it's very unlikely that it's going to do much to calm the dissent and the anger and the frustrations that we've seen on the streets. I've been surprised today, you know, even talking to members of Carrie Lam's own probation camp - you know, the sort of pro-establishment faction here in Hong Kong. Even they have said, you know, if this had come maybe two months ago - you know, this move to fully withdraw the extradition bill - that maybe we would have avoided the violence, the clashes and the chaos. But this coming now seems like a very small move that she could have made at this point.

And while you have noted that she has agreed to investigate police, you know, use of force over the past few weeks, basically, she hasn't set up a fully independent investigation. She believes that it can be done through an existing mechanism, which protesters have rejected because they say that body is - you know, it does not have legitimacy. It's stuffed with, you know, people who are loyal to Carrie Lam and her government. So it - there's no way it can be fully independent and meet what they want. So yeah, I mean, I think it's sort of still pretty grim prospects from where we see it.

KELLY: Grim prospects meaning the protests and unrest and controversy rolls on.

MAHTANI: Yes, exactly.

KELLY: Why is Carrie Lam making this concession now?

MAHTANI: Well, I think things had really reached kind of a tipping point. You know, I'd spoken to a pretty close confidante of her who basically said that, initially, the government's thinking was that maybe they could just kind of arrest everyone. You know, they have arrested over a thousand people. But that really hasn't changed anything. You know, people are still risking a lot to come out. People are still planning protests weekend after weekend. And they've pretty much done everything except give any concessions.

So I think that at this point, they had to try something new, and perhaps this was the easiest and quickest thing that they could do - you know, withdraw the bill. Some of the other protestor demands, for example - universal suffrage for Hong Kong. That's obviously a big one. You know, it requires consent from Beijing. It requires, you know, constitutional change, and that's not something that can be done right away.

KELLY: Yeah. What is Beijing's role in this? Do we assume that Carrie Lam's moves, including these concessions today, are being choreographed by Beijing?

MAHTANI: It's very hard to say anything definitively, but I think it's pretty clear that once Hong Kong's protests became very anti-Chinese in nature, once they started, you know, defacing the Chinese government office and the building and defacing the Chinese emblem, then of course, we're going to have some kind of response from Beijing. And I think it's quite clear that it would be very difficult for Carrie Lam to have made these concessions without Beijing.

But I think analysts and the experts who are looking at this closely say that withdrawing the bill was something that they could do pretty easily to sort of say, well, you know, you started protesting about the bill. Now the bill's gone. So you know, if you do anything else, then that's - you're acting in bad faith, right? And I think that that could be quite a calculated decision now, to paint the protesters from here on out as totally unreasonable.

KELLY: And are we seeing plans for protests continue - I mean, are they already making plans for this coming weekend?

MAHTANI: Yeah, we're actually already seeing pockets of protests tonight. I mean, they're not big. But yeah, there's certainly stuff planned for this weekend. I think protesters plan to go back to the airport. And I just got, like, an updated protest schedule, and it has something almost every day. So yeah, I have no doubt that this will continue.

KELLY: That is Shibani Mahtani of The Washington Post reporting tonight from Hong Kong.

Thanks very much.

MAHTANI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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