Govt needs to shed its ostrich attitude on fugitives law

May 20, 2019 10:31
Refusing to heed criticism over proposed changes to the extradition law, Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam is doing a disservice to locals, observers say. Photo: CNSA

After issuing a report last November in which it suggested that the US government should review the US-Hong Kong Policy Act in the face of erosion of the “One Country Two Systems”, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) recently released another report -- this time specifically on the Hong Kong's government’s proposed amendments to its Fugitive Offenders Ordinance.

The report has thoroughly laid down the possible implications of the proposed extradition law changes for the US itself for and US-Hong Kong relations.

To put it in a nutshell, the latest USCC report indicates that once the proposed extradition law changes are passed, the personal safety of an estimated 85,000 US citizens in Hong Kong, as well as the economic activities of some 1,300 US companies in the city, could be at huge risk.

The recent detention of several American and Canadian citizens by the mainland authorities on disputable criminal charges, and the lack of due process, has highlighted such a potential risk.

As far as the interests of Hong Kong are concerned, the USCC report says the new extradition law changes will provide legal grounds for further interference in Hong Kong affairs by Beijing, thereby accelerating the erosion of the city’s high degree of autonomy, human rights and freedoms.

Therefore, the report recommends that the US needs to review its existing relations with Hong Kong, including whether to continue to stick to the current US-Hong Kong Policy Act and treat the city as an independent customs entity.

Like it always did in the past, the Hong Kong government has dismissed the USCC report as just another diplomatic manoeuver pulled by Washington amid its ongoing trade war with Beijing.

To be sure, the release of the USCC report on the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance took place against a similar backdrop as that seen last year: it happened right at a time when US president Donald Trump is once again imposing new and massive tariff hikes on Chinese goods.

Nevertheless, it would be ignoring the reality or misleading for anyone to claim that the new USCC report is just another political trick related to the US-China trade war.

It is because, first, this year’s report is indeed different from the last one by nature, in that unlike the previous one, the one compiled by the USCC now deals with a specific topic, i.e. the proposed extradition law changes.

Second, we should bear in mind that it is not only the US that has raised concerns about the proposed extradition law changes, but also governments of several other countries as well as the local business chambers and the legal sector in Hong Kong. This suggests that it isn’t a hostile strategy against Beijing solely devised by Washington.

And third, the fact that members of Hong Kong's business sector aren’t happy with the proposed law changes, and that a local tycoon has filed a judicial review application against the amendments, are both unmistakable proofs that even business leaders in Hong Kong share the same concerns as the Western governments over the issue.

In my view, it is actually Chief Executive Carrie Lam and other top government officials, and not the critics, who are burying their heads in the sand. Turning a deaf ear to the intense criticism from Hong Kong citizens and the international community against the proposed law changes, authorities have not acquitted themselves well.

If the “ostrich” CE has the nerve to slam lawmakers who are against the proposed amendments as talking nonsense, why doesn't she have the same nerve to go the US and Europe to refute their criticism and to convince them that the proposed law changes are necessary?

The USCC report has warned that the initiative to amend the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance could become an independent element that could ruin US-Hong Kong ties.

As such, even if the ongoing Sino-US trade war stops, US-Hong Kong relations may not necessarily improve.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 13

Translation by Alan lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Legco member representing the Legal functional constituency (2016-2020) and a founding member of Civic Party