Hong Kong’s leader apologized Tuesday for an unpopular extradition bill that drew massive protests and indicated that it will not be revived during the current legislative session.
But Chief Executive Carrie Lam did not formally retract the legislation. She also said she hopes to finish her term, shrugging away calls for her resignation.
Lam acknowledged that it was unlikely she could win public trust in the bill, which would allow some suspects to face trial in mainland Chinese courts.
“In recognition of the anxiety and fears caused by the bill in the last few months, if we don’t have confidence from the people we will not proceed with the legislative exercise again,” Lam said.
“I will not proceed with this legislative exercise if these fears and anxieties could not be adequately addressed,” she said.
The bill ignited several massive protests, including a march by nearly 2 million people on Sunday and by as many as 1 million people a week earlier.
Activists rejected Lam’s earlier apologies for her handling of the legislation, which touched a nerve not easily soothed in a city anxious over the increasingly authoritarian Communist rule of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The uproar also has highlighted worries that Hong Kong is losing the special autonomous status China promised it when it took control from Britain in 1997.
Scenes at the protests were similar to demonstrations in 2014, when people camped for weeks in the streets demanding direct elections of the city’s chief executive, who is chosen by a pro-Beijing committee.
One concern over the extradition bill is that it might be used to send critics of Communist Party rule to the mainland to face vague political charges, possible torture and unfair trials.
Lam insists the legislation is needed for Hong Kong to uphold justice and not become a magnet for fugitives. It would expand the scope of criminal suspect transfers to include Taiwan, Macau and mainland China.
So far, China has been excluded from Hong Kong’s extradition agreements because of concerns over the independence of its courts and its human rights record.
The vast majority of Hong Kong residents fled persecution, political chaos or poverty and famine on the Chinese mainland. They value stability but also cherish freedoms of dissent and legal protections not allowed for people on the mainland.