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China stays quiet as Hong Kong protests against extradition bill

BEIJING, China (UPDATED) – Chinese state media remained largely silent as an estimated two million Hong Kong people took to the streets on Sunday, June 16, to protest an extradition bill, with social platforms scrubbed clean of any pictures or mentions of the rally.

Hong Kong's government has been rocked in recent days by massive demonstrations – and some violence – which forced the city's embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam to indefinitely suspend passage of the bill.

Early on Monday, June 17, China's official Xinhua news agency issued a 4-paragraph report noting suspension of the measure, "having regard to the strong and different views in society".

Xinhua said Lam had apologized to the people and pledged to make improvements in serving them after "deficiencies" in the Hong Kong government's work "led to substantial controversies and disputes in society." (READ: High points of Hong Kong's huge protests)

The report made no mention of Sunday's protest in which crowds choked the streets of the financial hub, calling for Lam's resignation.

Critics fear the Beijing-backed law will entangle people in China's notoriously opaque and politicised courts and damage the city's reputation as a safe place for business. 

Except for a short opinion piece in the Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily, Chinese state media -- which has drummed up support for the bill in recent weeks -- remained mum Sunday after Lam's climbdown.

China's state broadcaster, CCTV, avoided the subject in its main news bulletins throughout the day.

The proposed law that would allow extraditions to the mainland was "supported by mainstream public opinion in Hong Kong", the People's Daily article said.

Opposing 'intervention of external forces'

"The general public is looking forward to blocking legal loopholes to prevent Hong Kong becoming a haven for sinners," it added.

China has blamed the protests on what it says is a small group of organisers who are colluding with Western governments.

The People's Daily echoed the oft-repeated government line that "it resolutely opposes the intervention of external forces in Hong Kong affairs and China's internal affairs".

It also supported the option chosen by pro-Beijing Lam to put the bill on the backburner, saying it was an opportunity to "further listen to opinions".

Searches on China's Twitter-like microblogging site Weibo for "Hong Kong protests" only yielded official Chinese foreign ministry statements. The ministry has called such rallies "riots" or "behaviour that undermines Hong Kong's peace and stability".

There were no photos of black-clad protesters walking with banners critical of the bill, or people leaving flowers at the site where a young man fell to his death protesting the law. (READ: Leaderless and livid: The youngsters on Hong Kong front lines)

Videos of police using pepper spray and rubber bullets on protesters -- which had left Hong Kong public seething -- were also absent from Chinese social media.

Websites such as Twitter and Facebook -- accessible in semi-autonomous Hong Kong -- are blocked on the mainland.

Beijing was already on edge this month as it tightened security and stepped up online censorship to ensure that the 30th anniversary of the brutal June 4 Tiananmen Square crackdown would go by quietly. – Rappler.com