The demonstrators want Hong Kong's chief executive Carrie Lam to quit in the most significant challenge to China’s relationship with its territory since it was handed back by the United Kingdom 22 years ago.

By Ian Horswill

Posted on June 17, 2019

It took two million people, mostly clad in black with white ribbons on their chests, to take to the streets to force Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam to say sorry for her handling of proposed legislation a bill that would see citizens be sent to mainland China for trial.

The organisers of the latest demonstration want chief Lam to step down in what, Reuters reported, is becoming the most significant challenge to China’s relationship with its Hong Kong territory since it was handed back by the United Kingdom 22 years ago.

The latest protest, in and around Victoria Park in the CBD, is the largest in Hong Kong’s history and comes with Lam indefinitely delaying, though not withdrawing, the proposed legislation on Sunday, in a dramatic climbdown that threw into question her ability to continue to lead the territory.

The demonstrators poured in from all over, in numbers so large the march route had to be extended, and then widened, halting all traffic outside government headquarters. Many carried bunches of white flowers to honour a man who died after falling from a building on Saturday while holding banners opposing the extradition bill.

“We buy the white flower to hope that he can rest in peace,” 23-year-old Michael, who works in concessions and gave only his first name, told CNN. Like many others around him, he carried a sign saying “Freedom is Not Free”.

Echoes of protest songs, hymns and chants bounced off the surrounding highrises as darkness fell and then into the evening, hours after the early afternoon start of the protest, which remained peaceful throughout. They demand the bill be withdrawn and are angry at the way police handled a demonstration against it last Wednesday, when more than 70 people were injured by rubber bullets and tear gas.

It was an extraordinary show of grassroots political power in a city where residents cannot choose their leaders but are free to take to the streets to denounce them, The Guardian reported. Veteran activists with years of protest experience walked beside novices who had little interest in politics until this crisis flared up.

“(An) apology is not enough,” said demonstrator Victor Li, 19.

Critics say the planned extradition law could threaten Hong Kong’s rule of law and its international reputation as an Asian financial hub. Some Hong Kong tycoons have already started moving personal wealth offshore.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said President Trump would raise the issue of Hong Kong human rights at a potential meeting with President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Japan this month.

In a blog post published on Sunday, Hong Kong Financial Secretary Paul Chan sought to play down the impact of the protests.

“Even if the external environment continues to be unclear and the social atmosphere is tense recently, overall Hong Kong’s economic and financial markets are still operating in a stable and orderly manner,” he wrote.

Hong Kong activist investor David Webb, in a newsletter published on Sunday, said if Lam was a stock he would recommend shorting her with a target price of zero.

“Call it the Carrie trade. She has irrevocably lost the public’s trust,” Webb said. “Her minders in Beijing, while expressing public support for now, have clearly lined her up for the chop.”

In another indication of a possible shift of mood in the Chinese capital, a leader of the pro-democracy “Occupy” demonstrations that galvanised Hong Kong in 2014 appeared set to be released from jail.

Joshua Wong’s pro-democracy Demosisto movement said he would be freed later today.