17 February 2020
The USCC said the proposed amendments to the extradition law, if passed, would increase the city’s “susceptibility to Beijing’s political coercion” and further erode its autonomy. Photo: AFP
The USCC said the proposed amendments to the extradition law, if passed, would increase the city’s “susceptibility to Beijing’s political coercion” and further erode its autonomy. Photo: AFP

US commission warns HK over plan to revise extradition law

As the government pursues efforts to revise the city’s extradition law, a commission under the US Congress warned that Washington may have to review the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act if such amendments materialize.

In an eight-page brief issued on Tuesday, the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) said it is worried that the amendments proposed by the Hong Kong government would, if passed, increase the city’s “susceptibility to Beijing’s political coercion” and scour further its autonomy.

The proposed revision “could create serious risks for US national security and economic interests” in Hong Kong, and if passed, “the bill could potentially violate several key provisions of the US-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992”, including the “authorization of the US-Hong Kong extradition treaty and ‘encouraging’ US businesses to continue to operate in Hong Kong”, the USCC said.

Such new arrangement would diminish the city’s reputation as a safe place for America and international business operations, and could pose increased risks for American citizens and port calls in Hong Kong, the brief said.

Given the risks, the commission said that section 202 of the act states that “the US president can, by executive order, suspend the application of any part of the Hong Kong Policy Act” after determining that the city is not sufficiently autonomous to justify such treatment.

The USCC, which noted that it has been aware of public concerns about the amendments, said if the Hong Kong legislature passes the proposed changes, which will allow Hong Kong to extradite suspects to the mainland, the high-degree of autonomy enjoyed by the city would be eroded very fast and Beijing would have a powerful legal tool to meddle in Hong Kong affairs.

As such, it will be more difficult for Hong Kong people to fight for democracy and for foreign companies in Hong Kong to operate their businesses since they will be worried if their acts violate the law and they end up being arrested and sent to the mainland, it added.

There are some 85,000 US citizens and more than 1,300 US firms in Hong Kong, and a major concern is that the Hong Kong administration, if the bill is passed, could be pressured to extradite US citizens under “false pretenses”.

The commission specifically mentioned in its report that US Navy personnel who set foot in the territory may also face the risk of extradition if “detained or arrested during routine port calls,” once the extradition law is revised, suggesting the US “could consider alternative ports for rest and replenishment in the region”.

In response, Beijing said Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China, and the city’s affairs are completely domestic affairs of China.

“We stand firmly against any foreign attempt to interfere in Hong Kong affairs,” a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry said at a regular press conference on Wednesday. 

He added that the commission is “entrenched in bias towards China” and its so-called reports and comments “are not worth refuting”.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the SAR government said the proposed amendments neither pinpoint any particular jurisdictions nor target common citizens and they will not affect any of the 20 long-term agreements in force in the HKSAR, which has been exercising a high degree of autonomy in strict accordance with the Basic Law.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah pointed out that he understands the bill has drawn concerns, and said the government has the responsibility to explain the objectives and original intentions of the proposed amendments.

That is why it hopes the Legislative Council bills committee formed to deliberate on the proposed amendments could begin its work as soon as possible, Yau said.

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