Five things to know about Hong Kong’s extradition law
Following massive street protests, controversial bill moves closer to a vote
HONG KONG — Just days after an estimated 1 million people took to the streets in Hong Kong to demonstrate against a proposed extradition law that would allow suspects to be handed over to mainland Chinese authorities for prosecution, attention now turns to the city’s Legislative Council, or Legco, which resumes debate on the bill on Wednesday. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Monday said that the government will continue to push for the bill’s passage without delay, and a vote is scheduled for next week.
While the Hong Kong government maintains the bill aims to plug a legal loophole, many fear that the proposed amendments could undermine the city’s autonomy and damage the financial hub’s competitiveness. The proposed law also has drawn international attention, with some foreign governments openly expressing concern over the potential erosion to the city’s rule of law, which makes Hong Kong a magnet for multinational companies.
Many small businesses, including dentist offices, restaurants and book stores, have said they will not open on Wednesday in a show of support against the bill, and some labor unions are calling for strikes, local media reported. On Tuesday, Lam warned against “radical actions” by businesses, and by teachers and students who plan to boycott classes, public broadcaster RTHK reported.
As Legco continues to debate the extradition bill, here are five things you need to know about the controversial proposal.
What is the bill?
In February, the Hong Kong government revived a motion shelved some 20 years ago to amend its extradition law. The move will allow fugitives in the city to be transferred to jurisdictions beyond the 20 countries with which Hong Kong already has extradition treaties. Hong Kong currently does not have an extradition treaty with mainland China.
The move was prompted by a recent legal dilemma, in which the government was not able to transfer a Hong Kong man accused of killing his pregnant girlfriend in Taiwan for trial because the two governments do not have an extradition treaty. The suspect was sentenced to 29 months in prison in Hong Kong for the lesser offense of money laundering, and he could be released as early as October.
The Hong Kong government said the legal loophole needs to be closed to uphold justice and align the city’s laws with international standards. But the law would also pave the way for fugitives to be sent to mainland China, where many legal experts believe suspects will not receive a fair trial given the Communist Party’s control over the courts and prosecutions.
Why is the bill controversial?
The proposed legislation has sparked strong opposition among pan-democratic political parties, business groups, legal experts, religious organizations and ordinary citizens. They argue that allowing fugitives in Hong Kong — or people passing through the city — to be extradited to China will damage the city’s reputation as a financial hub that is safeguarded by an independent judiciary system, something mainland China lacks. Hong Kong’s high-degree of autonomy was guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” legal framework when it was handed over to China from Britain in 1997.
The extradition bill also comes at a particularly sensitive time, as China’s government has been exerting its influence over Hong Kong and publicly criticizing anti-government and pro-democracy rallies. The city’s authorities also have taken a strong hand against political activism.
The little public consultation on the proposed bill and what many perceive to be the hurried manner of its passage has prompted many to call for a comprehensive review of the extradition law and to include additional safeguards.
What is the reaction in the business community in Hong Kong and among foreign governments?
The American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong has called on the government to drop or delay the bill, as its passage would come at the expense of the city’s business community. “It would be irresponsible for the government to just brush this off,” Tara Joseph, president of the chamber, told Nikkei. Australian Chamber of Commerce Chairman Andrew Macintosh said this week that the bill could cost Hong Kong’s reputation as a stable international business center.
The bill also drew rare open criticism from pro-Beijing business groups. The response has prompted the government to make concessions on the bill, including dropping some white-collar crimes from the list of offenses that would make suspects eligible for extradition.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said this week that the proposed amendment puts at risk the city’s long-established special status in international affairs, and will negatively impact Hong Kong’s protection of human rights and democratic values. Under the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, Washington treats Hong Kong as an entity distinct from mainland China in matters of trade and economic systems. Hong Kong’s economy could suffer if the policy is rescinded.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland also recently have expressed their concerns over the erosion of the city’s freedoms.
Does China have any direct involvement in the legislation?
It is not known whether the move to enact the law comes under direct influence from authorities in Beijing. But several high-profile officials, including Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng, who is a member of the powerful seven-member Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party, have openly voiced their support for the extradition bill.
Following Sunday’s demonstration, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that Beijing will continue to support the Hong Kong government in advancing the amendment. He also condemned what he described as “irresponsible remarks” made by some foreign countries on the issue.
What happens next?
The bill, which begins its second reading, or debate, in Legco on Wednesday, needs to go through three reading sessions in the chamber before it advances to a vote, which is scheduled for June 20. To become law, the bill will need to secure a simple majority, or 35 votes from 69 lawmakers.
While it is unclear how Legco members will vote, the pro-establishment camp, including pro-business lawmakers, currently holds more than 40 seats.