An attempt by Beijing's hand-selected chief executive in Hong Kong to push through a bill seen as a threat to civil liberties.
A defiant crowd of hundreds of thousands marching against it.
The deployment of the police to keep demonstrators out of the legislature.
It has been a tumultuous few days for Hong Kong.
Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at a huge throng of protesters who forced lawmakers to postpone a debate on legislation to allow extraditions to mainland China — a measure Hong Kong residents fear would subject them to the Communist Party's whims.
The legislation is being championed by Hong Kong's current leader, Carrie Lam, a lifetime civil servant chosen two years ago by Beijing to head the territory.
She compared the protesters to spoiled children and vowed to keeping fighting for the extradition law.
In standing firm, she is channelling the hardline instincts of her boss, Communist Party leader Xi Jinping, who has presided over a clampdown on civil society across China and essentially silenced all visible political dissent on the mainland.
Lam's position illustrates how far the relationship between Hong Kong and mainland China has tilted towards Beijing in recent years.
If she succeeds in riding out the protests and passing the extradition bill, Beijing would get an opening to bypass Hong Kong's independent courts and extend its authority over residents and visitors in the semi-autonomous territory — potentially chipping away at Hong Kong's unique position as a centre of global finance.
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The battle over extradition is unfolding against the backdrop of an intensifying geopolitical competition between China and the United States, fanning long-standing fears among Chinese hardliners that hostile foreign forces are using Hong Kong as a base of subversion against the mainland.
Beijing has not been shy about its support for Lam's plan, which would allow the government to extradite people to the mainland for the first time, with few safeguards.
Many in Hong Kong worry that Communist officials will use it to seize political dissidents and others who run afoul of the party, for trial on bogus charges. A protest this week drew as many as one million people, or one in seven residents of the territory.
Hong Kong has been through similar upheaval before. In the summer of 2003, its first chief executive, a shipping tycoon named Tung Chee-hwa, tried to pass stringent security legislation that China's Communist leadership had insisted the former British colony adopt. Back then, Tung and his superiors in Beijing retreated in the face of the mass protests and quickly defused public anger.
But Lam has taken a very different stance, and if the extradition law passes — as many expect — it could create the basis for a renewed push to enact the national security legislation, known as Article 23, that failed in 2003.
That legislation — against sedition, subversion, secession and treason — would have allowed authorities to conduct warrantless searches and shut down newspapers.
It has long been a top priority for the Communist Party, and its passage would be an important political triumph for Xi, who could claim an achievement that eluded his predecessors, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao.
Beijing has become much more willing to intervene openly in Hong Kong politics in recent years, and in several important ways the differences between now and 2003 go beyond Xi alone.
Beijing's supporters now hold a larger majority in Hong Kong's Legislative Council — 43 of 70 seats — than they did in 2003. Their camp now consists mostly of professional politicians rather than the patrician tycoons who once dominated the legislature. The tycoons had showed more independence, even if they generally sided with the Government against the pro-democracy opposition.
In 2003, the attempt to push through the national security legislation collapsed when one of those tycoons, James Tien, grew alarmed by mass demonstrations. His pro-business political party withdrew its support for the bill, depriving the legislation of a majority.
But that is much less likely to happen with the class of lawmakers in office now. Some are far less affluent and more dependent on their US$151,600 government salaries and generous expense accounts.
"They are all yes-men," Tien said in an interview of his successors in the legislature. "The reason they are yes-men is the last 15 years have seen a gradual shift to more Chinese influence."
In Hong Kong's hybrid political system — a result of British colonial tradition as much as Communist control — only half the seats in the legislature are filled by popular elections.
Most of the other half of the seats are filled by industry and business groups, and China's booming economy means Beijing enjoys greater leverage over the Hong Kong economy now than it did even a decade ago, especially in finance.
Lam, Hong Kong's chief executive, was chosen by Beijing after she had tried to serve as a conciliator during the pro-democracy demonstrations that shut down parts of Hong Kong for months in 2014, known as the Umbrella Movement. At the time, she was the Government's second-highest official.
But democracy advocates' hopes that she would steer a middle course between Beijing's demands and public demands for greater political pluralism were quickly dashed, as Lam has shown little willingness to compromise on central issues.
She argues that the extradition bill is needed to close a loophole that has allowed criminals to escape justice by seeking refuge in the territory. Two of the seven members of China's governing Politburo Standing Committee — Wang Yang and Han Zheng — have called for it to be approved.
It is the first time since Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule in 1997 that two members of the committee have spoken out on a Hong Kong issue. Three minister-level officials in the central government have also endorsed the legislation.
Xi has not commented publicly on the legislation, and there is some debate in Hong Kong about what he thinks of the tense situation in the territory. As television stations broadcast live coverage of police battling protesters in Hong Kong, state television in Beijing led the evening news with Xi's official trip to neighbouring Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
Beijing's allies in Hong Kong say that Lam, not Beijing, proposed the extradition bill and has driven it forward. She has portrayed it as her response to a case involving a Hong Kong man accused of killing his girlfriend on a trip to Taiwan. (Officials in Taiwan, though, have objected to the legislation and said they would not seek the man's extradition if it passes.)
Lam is widely criticised not only by the pro-democracy opposition in Hong Kong but also, more quietly, by pro-Beijing politicians. They say she misread public opinion, mismanaged the issue and provoked a political crisis that has damaged the city's international standing.
Tien, whose change of heart doomed the national security bill in 2003, said the extradition plan could cause much bigger problems for Hong Kong businesses than the earlier legislation. But he said he did not want to fight Beijing at a time when the United States appears to him to be trying aggressively to block China's rise.
"On China versus America, I am on China's side; on President Trump versus President Xi, I'm on President Xi's side," he said.
He predicted that the legislature would pass the law next week and said that he and other business leaders now just want to prevent it from being abused.
The Government also prevailed five years ago, when huge crowds of demonstrators paralysed swathes of Hong Kong while demanding free elections to choose the territory's next chief executive. The Government refused to concede, and after waiting two months, police dispersed remaining protesters.
The extradition legislation, though, has galvanised the public in a different way. Many residents see it as a government attempt, as in 2003, to strip them of rights they have long enjoyed and put them at greater risk of arrest.
"We have no democracy," said Emily Lau, a former lawmaker and chairwoman of the city's Democratic Party, "but enjoy a level of personal freedom and rule of law and an independent judiciary, and we do not want them taken away."
Written by: Keith Bradsher
© 2019 THE NEW YORK TIMES