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Hong Kong To Shelve Controversial Extradition Bill


And days after violent clashes between police and protesters in Hong Kong, the territory's government has backed down. The bill would have allowed Hong Kong to extradite criminal suspects to mainland China. Hong Kong has thrived by its free economy and the rule of law, and this bill caused an awful lot of concern that the city's separate system may be eroding. NPR's Anthony Kuhn is in Hong Kong. Anthony, thanks for being with us.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Sure thing, Scott.

SIMON: This is a big - do I say - climbdown by Hong Kong's government?

KUHN: Oh, yeah.

SIMON: How do they explain it?

KUHN: It is a big climbdown, and neither the Beijing government nor the Hong Kong government suggested that they would compromise in any way. But Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam told a press conference that she's not scrapping the bill; she's just hitting pause on it. She says it's a good bill. They're - the government's going to take it back and rework it. But she acknowledged that these clashes, which injured about 80 people, were very serious. Let's listen to her talking about the unrest at this press conference.


CARRIE LAM: I am saddened by this, as are other citizens. As a responsible government, we have to maintain law and order on the one hand and evaluate a situation for the greatest interests of Hong Kong, including restoring calmness in society as soon as possible.

KUHN: But, you know, she also admitted that she had not done a good job of selling and explaining this law to the public. And she's going to try to do better, she says.

SIMON: Under the agreement signed in 1997, Hong Kong - or China agreed to recognize an independent system in Hong Kong for 50 years. What were the concerns about what this bill represented?

KUHN: Well, you know, Hong Kong does not have an extradition agreement with mainland China, and this would have arranged for the Hong Kong courts and government to do these extraditions on a case-by-case basis. And while the government says that this process would meet international legal standards, people in Hong Kong are not confident that, if someone gets extradited to China, they'll get a fair shake in that legal system. A lot has been happening in Hong Kong, in which China has curbed political participation and, for example, jailed the leaders of the last protest movement, the 2014 pro-democracy protests.

And at home, inside China, they've been setting up internment camps for Uighur Muslims in the far western Xinjiang region, which does not inspire confidence in Hong Kong people.

SIMON: Protesters in Hong Kong declaring victory?

KUHN: Well, you know, Hongkongers have taken to the streets many times to fight for their rights. Sometimes it's worked; sometimes it has not. This time they had things going in their favor, including the fact that both Beijing - that Beijing is really consumed by the U.S.-China trade war and doesn't have the energy to focus on this now, especially with President Trump going to meet with Xi Jinping later this month.

So the bill's critics are not going to rest, they say, until the bill is scrapped. There are still protests scheduled for tomorrow, and those are going to go ahead. But, you know, to the opponents of this bill, it's a bad law, and a bad law is not as good as no law, and every day that it isn't passed is a sort of victory, I guess.

SIMON: NPR's Anthony Kuhn. Thanks so much for being with us.

KUHN: Sure thing, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.
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