Hong Kong’s government is attempting to pass a law that would for the first time allow extraditions to mainland China. The proposal has generated massive opposition. Hundreds of thousands of people turned out to voice their discontent June 9, then further protests turned violent three days later as the police used pepper spray, rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse crowds. Nonetheless, the administration says it will press ahead.
1. Isn’t Hong Kong part of China?
It is, but it’s also a semi-autonomous region. The city was an outpost of the British Empire for 156 years, during which time it developed into a global business hub. In a 1984 joint declaration, the British agreed to give the city back in 1997, and China agreed to allow a “high degree of autonomy” for 50 years, including guarantees of free speech, capitalist markets and English common law under a “one country, two systems” arrangement.
2. What’s the new law?
The “Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019” was proposed by Hong Kong’s government in February. It covers mainland China and other jurisdictions that don’t have an extradition agreement with Hong Kong. The bill was sparked by the case of a Hong Kong man accused of murdering his girlfriend in Taiwan. He was arrested in Hong Kong and convicted of money laundering but couldn’t be sent back to Taiwan for trial there because there’s no legal framework to do so. The Hong Kong government says the new law will ensure the city doesn’t become a haven for suspected criminals.
3. What’s the problem?
Opponents are concerned that it could open the door for anyone, including political dissidents or civil rights activists, who runs afoul of the Chinese government to be arrested on trumped-up charges in Hong Kong and sent to the mainland, where they would face what the U.S. State Department called China’s “capricious legal system.” The law would apply to Hong Kong citizens, foreign residents and even people passing through on business or as tourists. Critics note the draft bill assigns to the city’s chief executive -- chosen by a committee stacked with Beijing supporters -- the leading role in handling extradition requests; currently the legislature can block extraditions.
4. Why such alarm?
The proposed change is the latest in a series of moves by China under President Xi Jinping that are viewed as chipping away at Hong Kong’s autonomy, including barring some activists from seeking elected office, prosecuting protest leaders and banning a pro-independence political party. The U.S. has suggested that the continued erosion of autonomy could jeopardize Hong Kong’s special status, under which the Americans agree to treat Hong Kong as distinct from China for trade and economic matters. Canada, the European Union and the U.K. also have expressed concern about the legislation and its potential effect on their citizens and business confidence.
5. How has the Hong Kong government responded?
The government says the original version has been amended to protect human rights and ensure suspects receive a fair hearing and aren’t extradited for political offenses. It raised the proposed threshold for extradition to crimes that carried sentences of seven years in prison, compared with a three-year threshold initially. Earlier, nine business categories were removed including bankruptcy, securities and futures and intellectual property. The bill now covers “serious crimes” such as murder, polygamy and robbery. Chief Executive Carrie Lam has pledged to stick to the plan of passing the bill before the current legislative period ends in July. As a result of the protests, however, lawmakers were forced to postpone debates about the legislation.
6. What happened at past protests?
In 2003, a demonstration of about half a million people led the city to scrap a national security proposal and contributed to the resignation of then-Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa. Nine years later, mass gatherings led by high school students pressured the government to reconsider a history curriculum lauding China’s ruling Communist Party. The pro-democracy movement fractured after the government successfully faced down student-led demonstrators who occupied city streets for 79 days in 2014, refusing to yield to demands for direct, popular elections for chief executive, the city’s top leader.
7. What does China say?
Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that Beijing “will continue to firmly support” the proposal, and warned against foreign interference. An official Chinese newspaper, the China Daily, wrote in an editorial that closing the extradition loophole would strengthen the rule of law in Hong Kong, adding that “foreign forces are seizing the opportunity to advance their own strategy to hurt China by trying to create havoc in Hong Kong.”
--With assistance from Karen Leigh.
To contact the reporters on this story: Fion Li in Hong Kong at firstname.lastname@example.org;Carol Zhong in Hong Kong at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brendan Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org, Grant Clark, Paul Geitner
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