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Nikkei Editorial

Path to Hong Kong stability lies in giving voters a greater voice

Lam should declare a formal withdrawal of the unpopular extradition bill

Protesters march against the extradition bill in Hong Kong on June 16.   © Kyodo

After two weeks of protests that brought record numbers of people into the streets, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam should do more than give a vague assurance that a deeply unpopular extradition bill will just fade away. She should state unequivocally that the legislation will be withdrawn.

Lam apologized again in a news conference on June 18 for proceeding with the divisive legislation, which would allow citizens of the former British territory to be extradited to other jurisdictions, including mainland China.

The apology came two days after a peaceful demonstration that brought nearly 2 million people into the streets to demand the bill's withdrawal, by organizers' counts. The demonstrators should be commended for their orderly behavior, including promptly clearing the way for ambulances.

As calls for her resignation grew louder, Lam signaled an intention to stay on until her term ends in 2022.

Beijing denies pressuring the Hong Kong government to advance the extradition bill. If so, then Lam should have no trouble convincing the Chinese leadership under President Xi Jinping that Hong Kongers do not want this perceived threat to their city's judicial autonomy.

The situation in Hong Kong has captured global attention ahead of the Group of 20 summit in Japan in late June, where a closely watched meeting between Xi and U.S. President Donald Trump will take place. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said he is "sure" that Trump will raise the subject in his talks with Xi.

Hong Kong's status as an international financial center is at stake. A bipartisan group of American lawmakers has proposed legislation to subject its special status under U.S. law, which grants trade benefits and other privileges, to an annual review.

Five years ago, Hong Kongers occupied the streets seeking an electoral system that allows candidates whose views clash with Beijing's to run for office. Their so-called Umbrella Movement, rooted in the principle of "one person, one vote," succumbed to heavy-handed policing under Lam's predecessor, C.Y. Leung.

Hong Kong still lacks sufficient representation of the public will in government, including the Legislative Council, the parliament. Mass protests thus remain a powerful tool for citizens to give voice to their political views.

Mainland Chinese and Hong Kong authorities should draw lessons from this bigger round of demonstrations. The fastest path to stability for Hong Kong under the "one country, two systems" principle is for leaders to join voters in crafting a new governance model that better reflects the public will.

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