Date
14 November 2019
The SAR administration has been reluctant to respond directly to requests made by Taiwanese authorities for the transfer of the murder suspect, probably for fear that it could be mistaken as an act of recognizing the “Republic of China”. Photo: Bloomberg
The SAR administration has been reluctant to respond directly to requests made by Taiwanese authorities for the transfer of the murder suspect, probably for fear that it could be mistaken as an act of recognizing the “Republic of China”. Photo: Bloomberg

Why it is hard for HK, Taiwan to reach extradition agreement

Chan Tong-kai, 20, who is suspected of murdering his girlfriend in Taipei in February last year, has been remanded in custody by the police on a charge of money laundering ever since he fled Taiwan and returned to Hong Kong.

The city’s court is to set deliver his sentence on Monday afternoon, although it is generally expected that he would either be set free immediately, considering the time he has already spent under detention, or released soon.

And since the Legislative Council’s scrutiny of the government’s proposed changes to the extradition law has apparently reached a stalemate, it is almost a foregone conclusion that Chan would walk free over the case.

A person familiar with the matter has revealed that communication and discussions between the SAR government and Taipei over the matter have seen limited progress, and is therefore anything but optimistic about the prospects of the two administrations reaching an extradition agreement in the long run.

As Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu pointed out some two weeks ago, the SAR government has begun communicating with the Hong Kong–Taiwan Economic and Cultural Co-operation and Promotion Council (ECCPC), a non-governmental organization set up in our city to facilitate civilian exchanges including economic, cultural and social ones with Taiwan, regarding sending Chan back to Taiwan to stand trial there.

The SAR government has also conveyed the same message to the Taiwan–Hong Kong Economic and Cultural Co-operation Council (THEC), a non-official body established in Taiwan to facilitate economic and cultural exchanges with Hong Kong at the community level.

In response, the THEC said it would study the issue. Yet even though the Easter holiday is already over, nothing has been heard from the THEC.

An individual who is familiar with the state of affairs in Taiwan believes that the sluggish pace of the talks over the case of Chan could be due to the fact that there is basically little motivation for Taipei to establish an extradition mechanism with Hong Kong.

He said although Taipei has already signed an agreement on the surrender of fugitives with Beijing, the case with Hong Kong is quite different.

He said Taiwan feels that it is “on an equal footing” with the mainland when negotiating a cross-strait extradition agreement, but Hong Kong is only a special administrative region under China rather than an independent political entity, hence Taipei’s reluctance to hold formal talks with the SAR administration.

Taiwan is also deeply concerned about the prospects of its citizens getting extradited to the mainland to stand trial once it has concluded an extradition agreement with Hong Kong.

As such, Taipei would rather sign an agreement with Beijing directly, under which Taiwanese citizens who have committed crimes overseas would stand a chance of getting extradited back to the island and standing trial in Taiwanese courts.

The issue has been further compounded by the fact that the SAR administration has found it pretty inappropriate to respond directly to the requests made by Taiwanese authorities for transferring Chan, probably for fear that it could be mistaken as an act of recognizing de facto the “Republic of China”.

The reservations and concerns on both sides about the issue probably explain why talks over surrendering Chan have ground to a stalemate.

Besides, the source added, Taipei simply won’t act proactively to resolve the issue because both the victim and the suspected murderer are Hongkongers, while no Taiwanese people are involved in the case.

There are some analyses suggesting that since Beijing’s overriding concern is the enactment of Article 23 of the Basic Law, the SAR administration could be acting on its own initiative rather than necessarily on the central authorities’ order when proposing the amendments to the extradition law.

However, since the proposed law changes have now evolved into an issue regarding the ability of the Hong Kong government to enforce effective governance, it is very likely that Beijing will throw its weight behind the SAR administration in order to ensure the passage of the legislative initiative.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 26

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]

JC/CG

Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.