AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
In Hong Kong Sunday, hundreds of thousands of people filled the city streets to protest a proposed government law that would allow people to be extradited to mainland China for criminal charges.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: No extradition to China.
CORNISH: Despite the large response against the proposed law, Hong Kong's leader, Carrie Lam, is still pushing to pass the law by next month. We go now to Alan Wong. He's deputy editor of Inkstone News in Hong Kong. Welcome to the program.
ALAN WONG: Hi. Thanks for having me.
CORNISH: So Alan, if you could, start just by describing what it was like on the streets this weekend.
WONG: Right. On Sunday afternoon, hundreds of thousands of people started marching from Victoria Park to the Hong Kong government headquarters. And there were so many people that people were stuck in metro stations for hours. The crowd was moving at a glacial pace. Normally, a block in Causeway Bay would take maybe 30 seconds to cross. But on Sunday, it took 15 minutes. The size of the crowd invigorated all protesters because they'd never seen anything like this since 2014, when Hong Kong had the "Umbrella Revolution" calling for democracy.
CORNISH: Can you help us understand why so many everyday people are worried about a law that's about the extradition of criminal suspects?
WONG: Right. The hundreds of thousands of people who took to the streets worry that they could be extradited for charges that are purely fictional or trumped-up for political reasons.
CORNISH: You've described this mass protest, a lot of displeasure with this law. Why is Carrie Lam still pushing it through?
WONG: Well, the official answer is that there's a recent murder case that happened in Taiwan and the suspect is a Hong Kong resident who has returned to Hong Kong. But he cannot be sent back to Taiwan to stand trial because there's no extradition agreement between Taiwan and Hong Kong. Therefore, Hong Kong needs to legislate something to allow that suspect to face justice in Taiwan. But Hong Kong protesters do not think that that is the true motive behind the Hong Kong government's move to push this amendment through.
CORNISH: Hong Kong's leader, Carrie Lam, is appointed by Beijing. Correct? And I assume that there's heavy influence within Hong Kong's government, as well.
WONG: Yes. Carrie Lam, the Hong Kong chief executive, is appointed by Beijing. She was elected, not by the general population, but by a small committee made up of mostly business interest groups and elite politicians. So a lot of people, during the protest on Sunday, actually called for her resignation.
CORNISH: You mentioned the umbrella protest a few years back, and now there are these protests in the streets. Do you get the sense that people in Hong Kong are starting to feel like these kinds of demonstrations aren't effective for them?
WONG: They certainly feel that protests have been ineffective at least since 2003, when a protest with half a million participants did force the government to shelve a national security legislation. But in the years since, especially after the "Umbrella Movement" protests, the Hong Kong protesters have a sense of helplessness. Even though they put up such a strong expression of displeasure at the government's proposed changes to laws or the lack of progress in democratization, the government still wouldn't compromise. Therefore in recent years, you've seen some participants in protests would turn to violence to express their frustration with the government.
CORNISH: I can see why, then, this extradition law would be of concern.
WONG: Yes. Part of the extradition law is applicable to crimes that are punishable by more than seven years of imprisonment. Rioting would be included.
CORNISH: That's Alan Wong, deputy editor of Inkstone News in Hong Kong. Thank you for speaking with us.
WONG: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.