On Tuesday, Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, attempted to end what has been the territory’s worst political crisis in decades by declaring a controversial extradition bill that set off weeks of protests “dead”.
Yet the operative word protesters were looking for was “withdraw”, or chit wui, a key demand of the demonstrators to formally withdraw the bill from parliament. Lam has said the bill, already suspended last month in response to protests, would expire at the end of the legislative session that finishes next July. Instead she used a Cantonese idiom to describe “reaching the end of one’s life”.
Soon after the press conference, protesters panned her “word games” and vowed to organise further protests if she refused to meet demands. Others said that without the bill’s withdrawal, according to the rules and procedures of the legislature, they could only rely on Lam’s promises that it would not be revived.
“She said nothing really. Her personal guarantee is meaningless,” said Yan, a 35-year-old construction worker who asked not to give his full name. “The bill has not been withdrawn and they can still bring it back in another form,” he said.
The extradition bill, which critics fear would be used as a political tool by Beijing to bring dissidents and critics of the government to China, has been a lightning rod for discontent in Hong Kong and an example of the erosion of the city’s freedoms under Beijing’s control. The former British colony, returned to China in 1997, is meant to operate with a “high degree of autonomy”, with its own courts and legislature.
Lam, elected by a 1,194-member committee dominated by pro-Beijing representatives, has been the focus of much of that discontent, with protesters calling for her removal.
“The level of distrust in Lam and her government is so deep at this point that these half measures are unlikely to be accepted and protests will likely continue,” said Antony Dapiran, a Hong Kong-based writer and author of the book, City of Protest.
Protesters referred to Lam’s track record of going back on promises made to the public, for example that she would resign if the public demanded it. On Tuesday, Lam said she would not be stepping down.
Critics say that even if the bill is truly finished, protesters are not likely to be appeased. “The bill is dead, but people don’t trust her anymore,” said Dennis Kwok, a pro-democracy lawmaker with the Civic party.
Lam also refused to meet other demonstrator demands, including for the release of those arrested in the protests and an independent investigation into police use of force on protesters on 12 June – when teargas, rubber bullets and truncheons were deployed on largely peaceful crowds.
“The campaign will go on. People want concrete results; they are not happy with what they have seen so far,” said Joseph Cheng, a retired political scientist at the City University of Hong Kong.
While the demonstrations may decline in scale, Cheng believes protesters will continue. Their demands have gone beyond simply the withdrawal of the bill. Protesters are also urging the government to implement democratic reforms including universal suffrage, a key issue in a previous wave of demonstrations in 2014.
“The core of this political movement is the demand for free elections, because all governance crisis stems from political inequality,” said Joshua Wong, a student leader in the 2014 protests and secretary general of the Demosistō party. “Protests continue,” he said.
Lily is the Guardian's former Beijing bureau chief
Lily Kuo in Beijing and Guardian reporter in Hong Kong