HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) – The unrest in Hong Kong should start letting up after three months of protests as Chief Executive Carrie Lam makes a concerted effort to address the concerns raised by the demonstrators, her top adviser said.
The city’s leader plans to hold a dialogue with Hong Kong citizens and will also address the underlying issues raised by the protesters – from the lack of affordable housing to rising income disparity – during an annual policy speech next month, said Mr Bernard Chan, convener of Hong Kong’s Executive Council.
“That may help dissipate protesters,” Mr Chan said in an interview on Friday (Sept 20) in Los Angeles on the sidelines of an investment conference.
“There will always be smaller groups of protesters who will take more time. I’m hoping in the coming months, there’s a positive response in the government about some of these long-standing social issues.”
The former British colony has been rocked since June by near-daily and sometimes violent protests that were sparked by a bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China. Mrs Lam has since scrapped the measure, but protesters have said that’s not enough and that the movement will continue until all five of their demands are met.
The political paralysis and unrest has already taken a toll on the economy and investors have raised concerns of a capital flight, with the benchmark Hang Seng Index closing the week among the world’s worst performers.
Hong Kong police have come under international criticism as clashes between officers and protesters turned increasingly violent.
Amnesty International alleged Hong Kong police beat pro-democracy demonstrators in custody and committed acts that amount to “torture” during recent protests, in a report released earlier in the week.
The rights group underscored escalating violence on both sides and the possibility the “situation could deteriorate further in the coming weeks” ahead of protests planned to coincide with the Oct 1 anniversary of 70 years of Communist rule in China.
Mrs Lam this week defended her government and police from allegations of improper behaviour, saying the administration condemns all violence and all judicial proceedings were conducted in an “impartial manner”.
“I think by and large the police have been very restrained,” said Mr Chan.
“Perhaps there may have been individual cases of maybe excess use of force, individually. But I have not heard of any significant or widespread torture of detainees.”
Further protests are expected this weekend, including another so-called “stress test” of the international airport’s transportation network. Earlier protests at the airport – Asia’s busiest hub for international traffic – forced carriers to delay or cancel flights, leaving queues of people stuck at the terminal sitting on suitcases.
“The Chinese government has made it very clear that they would like the Hong Kong government and police to deal with problems and they still believe that we can,” said Mr Chan.
“But yes, they also reminded us that there is always that last option – that last option is allowing the Peoples’ Liberation Army, the PLA – to be deployed in Hong Kong.”
In addition to the withdrawal of the extradition Bill, Hong Kong’s demonstrators have called for an independent inquiry into excessive police force during the clash, an amnesty for those charged during the unrest, rescinding the categorisation of participants as “rioters” and the implementation of full universal suffrage.
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