China official acknowledges concerns in HK over fugitives law

May 16, 2019 16:04
Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office Director Zhang Xiaoming (right, upper photo) hold talks with a delegation led by Executive Councilor Ronny Tong (left); Beijing’s Liaison Office Director Wang Zhimin. Photo: HKMAO, HKEJ

The Hong Kong government's move to revise the territory's extradition laws is “appropriate, reasonable and lawful”, a top Chinese official overseeing Hong Kong affairs said on Wednesday, justifying the effort to put a legal framework in place that would enable transfer of criminal suspects to any jurisdiction, including mainland China. 

During a meeting in Beijing with a delegation from the Hong Kong think-tank Path of Democracy, Zhang Xiaoming, director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, however acknowledged that steps needed to be taken to allay Hongkongers' concerns and fears about the mainland's judicial system.

As per information provided to the media by Ronny Tong Ka-wah, the think-tank's founder and a member of Hong Kong's Executive Council, Zhang said that Beijing supports Hong Kong's proposal to amend the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Ordinance.

Revision of the laws is an urgent matter for Hong Kong, Beijing's top official on Hong Kong was quoted as saying.

Worries about the legal amendments are unwarranted, the official suggested, even as he admitted that authorities have some work to do to set at rest concerns about the mainland's judicial system. 

According to Tong, who led a delegation comprising about 30 people, Zhang said the essence of the “one country, two systems” principle lies in mutual respect and mutual understanding between Beijing and Hong Kong and that Beijing “absolutely respects” Hong Kong’s legal system and its jurisdiction.

The Chinese official said he was aware that many Hongkongers have a lot of concerns about the amendments to the fugitives law, but insisted that the worries are unfounded, Tong revealed after the meeting.

Zhang’s comments came after Zhang Yong, vice-chairman of the Basic Law Committee of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), and Chen Dong, deputy director of Beijing’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong, had both voiced their support for the proposed extradition law amendments on Saturday.

In response to an inquiry from the Hong Kong Economic Journal, Tong said the fact that Zhang took the initiative to especially talk about the matter suggests that Beijing has recognized Hong Kong people's concerns.

According to Tong, Zhang accepted that that some people in Hong Kong do not trust the legal system in the mainland, and promised to do more to enhance the awareness and mutual trust.

But the mainland official is said to have taken issue with the suggestion of “trying Hongkongers in Hong Kong”, saying such argument goes against the common law system.

In related news, Beijing’s Liaison Office said in a statement issued on Wednesday that its director, Wang Zhimin, chaired a leadership meeting on Tuesday where it was agreed that the proposed changes to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance have sufficient legal basis and are urgent.

Since the handover the mainland has sent more than 260 crime suspects back to Hong Kong, while no wanted people have been surrendered in the opposite direction, said the statement, which was posted on the office's website.

Revising the fugitives law is a “rightful duty” in implementing the Basic Law, and such revision constitutes an “important move” to protect Hong Kong’s core value of rule of law and consolidate and improve the city’s good reputation on rule of law, the statement cited Wang as saying.

According to the statement, Wang told the meeting attendees, who included Xie Feng, Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong, two political commissars from the People's Liberation Army Hong Kong Garrison and some heads of major Chinese corporations in Hong Kong, that rumors and “man-made fears” about the extradition law revision were being spread by people with an ulterior motive and should be rejected.

Commenting on the statement, Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai criticized the Liaison Office, saying the agency was saying things that are not helpful to mend dissension within society, and accusing it of trying to pressure the pro-establishment camp into pushing the amendment bill through the Legislative Council.

Wu urged people to come forward and voice their objection to the bill, and also called on the government to retract the proposal and conduct formal public consultations.

Lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun, a Hong Kong deputy to the NPC, confirmed on a radio program on Thursday that he received an invitation to a meeting called by the Liaison Office to meet with local deputies to the NPC and delegates to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference for this coming Friday to discuss an “important item”.

It is believed that the meeting is to do with the fugitives law revision.

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