Massive demonstrations and angry public protests that shut down the city's legislature for two days appear to have sown doubts in the minds of top officials in Hong Kong's administration over its plans to allow the rendition of alleged criminal suspects to mainland China.
Executive Council (ExCo) convenor Bernard Chan said on Friday that it would now be impossible for the Legislative Council (LegCo) to continue discussions over the extradition bill after Wednesday's protests.
He said the government should think of a new approach, including widening the public consultation process.
"Starting over and explaining it again would be one way of doing it," Chan told RFA. "But my feeling is that a lot of people aren't even paying much attention to the proposals, including whether or not there are safeguards."
"This is now about much more than just a law ... I think we need to see if there's some way to restore the public mood," he said.
ExCo member Ronny Tong agreed, saying that there is "no hurry" to push the renditions law through LegCo.
"Any responsible government would take stock in the light of Sunday's demonstration and Wednesday's violence, and consider whether the current situation is ideal for the passage of the bill ahead of the July [recess]," Tong said.
"My personal feeling is that it's now looking less and less likely that the bill will be passed before July," he said. "And even in the absence of time constraints, LegCo may not be able to handle this, while Taiwan has said it won't accept our extradition process."
Taiwan has indicated that it would not request the extradition of Hong Kong suspect Chan Tong-kai for a 2018 murder if the new legislation is passed in its current form, scotching Lam's previous argument that the amendment was necessary to handle such cases.
More time to explain
Fellow ExCo member Fanny Law joined the apparently growing number of dissidents in Lam's cabinet, saying that the government could allow more time for discussions.
"I wouldn't support withdrawal, but I think the government hasn't done nearly enough to explain these amendments," Law said. "Maybe they need to explain it again, to make it more acceptable to people."
Their comments came after Carrie Lam had insisted that the bill should be passed by the end of LegCo's current session, and after Beijing's representatives in the city had issued a statement saying the bill should be passed as a matter of urgency.
Pro-government lawmaker Michael Tien told government broadcaster RTHK that he has written to Lam asking her to postpone the bill.
Meanwhile, protesters held posters and knelt in a Hong Kong subway station on Friday, calling on people to turn out on another planned mass protest this weekend.
"First of all, I think the police were trying to create an atmosphere of fear, by arresting and searching people in hospitals while they were being treated, and in universities and dormitories," Siu Lam, a protester and student representative from Hong Kong's City University, told RFA.
"They wanted to make sure that no students went to take part in any kind of mass movement again," Siu said.
Driven by the young
While Sunday's march of more than a million people saw a huge cross-section of Hong Kong society take to the streets to protest the amendments, Wednesday's occupation of the streets around LegCo was largely driven by young people who saw it as a last-ditch defense of the city's promised freedoms.
"To tell you the truth, I'm not that optimistic, but I'm not totally without hope either," a third-year university student, who declined to be named for fear of later reprisals, told RFA.
"I just think that the people of Hong Kong have to hang in there," she said.
And a recent postgraduate student surnamed Fei said there is widespread mistrust that LegCo will do an adequate job of protecting the people of Hong Kong, given that it is under the control of pro-Beijing members.
"All the provisions ensuring that political prisoners aren't sent [to China] will be struck down, if this LegCo passes the bill," Fei said. "We can't trust a legislature that wasn't elected by us."
And a student at Hong Kong's Sports University, Lee Yee-ming, said young people are stepping to the forefront of the opposition to the bill because they have witnessed growing political interference from the ruling Chinese Communist Party, together with a worsening economic situation since the 1997 handover.
"The central government has been stepping up the pressure in recent years, including its attempts to impose patriotic education [in Hong Kong schools], the aggressive promotion of Mandarin, and the abolition of pro-independence student groups," Lee said.
"All of these things have heightened the spirit of resistance among young people."
Messages to the world
Political commentator Hu Shaojiang said in a commentary broadcast on RFA's Cantonese Service that the recent protests had sent some important messages to the world, including sounding the death knell for promises of a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong under the "one country, two systems" framework.
"Firstly, 'one country, two systems' is hurtling towards its demise," Hu wrote.
"When Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping met with Hong Kong entrepreneur Li Ka-shing in 1990, he made a clear commitment that one country, two systems will remain unchanged for 50 years, and that there may be no need to change it after that either."
"Some people think this was a lie, but I think Old Uncle Deng was telling the truth, but after the current leader took office, he totally changed Deng's policies."
Hu said the vast majority of people in Hong Kong have lost their illusions about the Chinese government.
"They are fighting the final battle of defending freedom and the rule of law," he wrote. "This decisive battle isn't only being fought on the streets, but also in people's minds."
Hu warned the rest of the world not to sit by and wait for China to develop in its current direction beyond all intervention.
"If the free world continues to condone [China's actions], ... humanity will be forced to face a regime that is more evil and less controllable than Hitler's Third Reich, and that will be a disaster for all mankind," he said.
Moving wealth out of Hong Kong
Meanwhile, some of Hong Kong's highest net-worth individuals have started moving their wealth elsewhere, in case the extradition amendments, which include extensive provision for the freezing of suspects' Hong Kong assets, are passed.
“It’s started. We’re hearing others are doing it, too, but no one is going to go on parade that they are leaving,” a source close to one tycoon told RTHK.
“The fear is that the bar is coming right down on Beijing’s ability to get your assets in Hong Kong. Singapore is the favored destination.”
Reported by Wen Yuqing and Lee Wang-yam for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Lu Xi and Shi Shan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.