The Hong Kong government has backed down and agreed to exclude a number of white-collar crimes from a new extradition amendment that will, if passed, allow the surrender of people wanted by China.
The government conceded amid a hefty backlash from not only the pan-democratic bloc but also from the city’s usually pro-establishment business sector. Taiwan and the US both expressed strong concerns after Hong Kong first broached the rendition arrangement for consultation last year.
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam agreed on Tuesday to take nine categories of economic and business crimes concerning bankruptcy, securities and futures and intellectual property out from the proposed law.
The bill will still include offenses such as murder, rape, polygamy, robbery etc that may carry at least a three-year jail sentence, for swifter transfer of fugitives to China, Taiwan, Macau and any other jurisdiction with which Hong Kong has yet to enter into a formal extradition deal.
“The purpose of the amendment is to deal with a murder case that happened in Taiwan [after the suspected murderer returned to Hong Kong and could not be sent back to face trial due to the lack of such a fugitive law between the two jurisdictions] so as to prevent Hong Kong from becoming a haven for criminals,” said Lam.
But some observers say it is highly conceivable that Beijing might have handed a demand to Lam to extradite political prisoners or prisoners of conscience deemed to be ‘criminals’ under the Chinese legal system.
Hong Kong until now remains a safe harbor for dissidents facing purges in China and others who fall foul of law enforcers north of the border, thanks to the lack of an arrangement regarding the surrender of people wanted by China.
Now the move has also stoked fears among local businessmen and US lawmakers as it may make Hong Kong more susceptible to Beijing’s demands, and subsequently, those in Hong Kong may face a greater risk of being handed over to China under the new arrangement.
A delegation of US Congressmen to Hong Kong earlier this month highlighted the proposed law as a major challenge to the “one country, two systems” principle promised by Beijing. The US Consulate-General in Hong Kong, as well as the American Chamber of Commerce Hong Kong, also said they were perturbed that the new bill could affect the 60,000 US citizens and 12,000 US-invested companies in the city.
Meanwhile, US Vice-President Mike Pence met Anson Chan, Hong Kong’s former chief secretary for administration in both the colonial era and during the initial years after the 1997 handover, at the White House last week.
Pence was quoted as saying that he “is extremely concerned about the situation in the city” after Chan briefed him on the latest developments including the new fugitive law. Chan also met Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
A US Department of State report said Hong Kong maintains a sufficient – although diminished – degree of autonomy under the “one country, two systems” model to justify continued special treatment, such as Washington’s preferential recognition of the city as a separate customs territory.
The annual report is under the mandate of the US-Hong Kong Policy Act, a Congressional legislation that treats the territory separately from China over bilateral relations after 1997.
Taiwan has also lodged representations against the amendment, saying it would impinge on the rights and freedoms of Taiwanese in Hong Kong.
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