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Hong Kong Streets Filled With Protesters Against China Extradition Bill


Let's linger for a moment on the sound of protest. Demonstrators in Hong Kong brought instruments into the streets and called their government useless, although their sheer numbers speak more powerfully than what exactly they said.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Singing in foreign language).

INSKEEP: Now, as you listen, picture a mass of people on a major street, filling all the space between skyscrapers for as far as you can see. Some of them chanted, no extradition, which is the issue here. Hong Kong is part of China but, still, as an independent judiciary; it's left over from British colonial times, and China committed to preserve that when the British left. The extradition law, if passed, would make it easier for mainland China to take suspects away into its own much less transparent system.

Natasha Khan of The Wall Street Journal is covering this story from Hong Kong. Welcome to the program.

NATASHA KHAN: Thanks, Steve. It's good to be here.

INSKEEP: What have you seen?

KHAN: I mean, yesterday was a pretty extraordinary day in Hong Kong. As you described, it was really one of those things where, you know, it was the only thing people were talking about, and you know, it really caused gridlock in the northern part of the city. And it was just - you know, people in white shirts, which was the dress code, holding up red placards, you know, all day and, you know, walking for seven hours, from a park to the government headquarters, you know, patiently. You know, if you can imagine a million people walking through the street, you know, it's quite a line, basically.

INSKEEP: Who would be affected if this law were to take effect?

KHAN: I think, basically, you know, it could take effect in a few weeks. And the fear is that, you know, China could use this agreement to, you know, extradite people that say - that they don't really like to China for trial. And as you had mentioned, you know, the legal system is much more opaque there.

INSKEEP: Are there are a lot of people who are critics of the Chinese government who are on the outs in some way, who have effectively taken refuge in Hong Kong?

KHAN: Yes, there's quite a lot of - I think Hong Kong has always been a haven for dissent. And you know, we - here in Hong Kong, there is the freedom of protest, freedom of expression, which is much more limited in China. So a lot of people are worried that under the pretense of another, you know, trumped-up charges, basically, that they could then be extradited back to China for a...

INSKEEP: Well, would they still get a hearing in Hong Kong's more independent judicial system before they disappeared into China?

KHAN: The government has stressed very strongly that that would happen. Again, I think here critics say that - you know, for example, in the case of a bookseller that disappeared from Hong Kong a few years ago, you know, it seems that the crime he was charged for in China was quite different from what, you know, might have put him in the crosshairs of the Chinese government.

INSKEEP: Oh, and this is a person who disappeared without judicial proceedings, even without this law that has not yet been passed. I want to ask one quick question.

KHAN: Right, and...

INSKEEP: I want to ask one quick question before we go, though, Natasha Khan. We've had these huge protests, but as I understand it, the chief executive of Hong Kong is appointed by mainland China. So does anybody in Hong Kong's government need to listen to a million protesters?

KHAN: Well, I guess it then goes back to who a city's leader should be accountable to. So I think that's really at the heart of what the protesters were shouting about yesterday. So, you know, you could see a lot of people calling for the leader to step down because exactly what you're pointing out to, which is that, you know, who is she supposed to be serving? You know, that - you know, it should be for the people, but unfortunately, they feel that she is not doing that and, instead, really trying to please Beijing.

INSKEEP: But she can stay the course.

KHAN: But for now, it seems to be the case, yes.

INSKEEP: Natasha Khan of The Wall Street Journal, thanks so much.

KHAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.