Govt steps up outreach efforts for extradition law revision

May 27, 2019 12:54
Hong Kong authorities have had talks with foreign business associations in a bid to allay concerns over the government’s proposed changes to a law that would enable transfer of criminal suspects to various jurisdictions, including mainland China. Photo: H

With senior Beijing officials, including Vice Premier Han Zheng and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference's national committee chairman Wang Yang, publicly endorsing the Hong Kong government’s proposed extradition law changes, the bill's passage through the Hong Kong legislature appears almost a foregone conclusion.

While there might still be room for some tweaking of the amendments, the grave concerns in society, particularly among the business community, about the legislative initiative won't fade soon.

The International Business Committee (IBC), a forum for discussion between the government and foreign business representatives on matters related to Hong Kong's business environment, is believed to have taken up the matter.

The panel, which is currently chaired by Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung and made up of over 20 foreign business chambers in the city including the American, British, French and German chambers of commerce, held a meeting on May 17 when the topic was said to have been discussed.

At the meeting, Cheung, along with officials from the Security Bureau and the Department of Justice, is reported to have reiterated that the proposed amendments weren't tailor-made for the mainland, but rather, applicable to over 170 jurisdictions around the world which have not yet concluded any agreement with Hong Kong on surrender of fugitives. 

The officials also stressed that the law changes would result in better law and order in the city.

Nevertheless, it appears such reassurance from Cheung was still unable to convince members of the IBC of the necessity to press ahead with the law changes.

It is said that during the meeting, some attendees voiced concerns about the poor judicial system in the mainland, and took the view that the Hong Kong government should provide more human rights protection when amending the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance.

According to sources, government officials who were present at the meeting agreed to study the suggestion, and generally adopted a receptive posture towards the opinions of the international business chambers.

Meanwhile, Security Secretary John Lee Ka-chiu is going to meet with the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce (HKGCC) this week to discuss and explain the issue and listen to their views.

Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung of the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong (BPAHK), a lawmaker from the Legco functional constituency of Commercial (First) and who represents the HKGCC, said  he will seize the opportunity to pass on the views of the local business sector to the administration.

Lam, who is also a member of Hong Kong's Executive Council, will seek a clearer explanation from Lee over the meaning of “trust” under section 15 of the Description of Offences in Schedule 1 of the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance.

Also, Lam said he is going to propose that the threshold be raised by allowing extraditions only for offences punishable by a prison term of seven years to 10 years, rather than the cases that would warrant three years of jail terms as proposed by the Security Bureau. 

He will also urge the authorities to clarify certain doubts among the public over the matter.

But Lam also added that small and medium enterprises with whom he had been in touch were not that apprehensive about the extradition law changes.

The lawmaker didn’t reveal whether he will vote for or against the amendment bill.

In the meantime, after a meeting with the Liberal Party last week, security chief Lee was quoted by lawmaker Felix Chung Kwok-pan as saying that the government would consider the party leader's suggestion of raising the threshold for the term of jail sentence to seven years.

Taking a look at the situation, we can say that from the administration's perspective, getting the thumbs-up from Beijing over the proposed law changes is one thing, being able to convince the public is quite another.

As such, we estimate that the government will have to make further concessions over the bill, no matter what. If the concerns of the various sectors are to ease, much will depend on the magnitude of the possible concessions.

After this column was first published last Thursday, Chief Secretary Cheung made it clear that the administration was stepping up efforts to allay concerns among the international community about the proposed changes to Hong Kong's extradition law.  

“We are not ignoring the views of the international community. If anything, in fact, the Secretary for Security and myself have been stepping up our outreach efforts to articulate our case,” Cheung told media on Saturday.

He added, “We are also following the United Nations’ treaty model in what we are doing, and also following the good practices of other countries that are already doing this.”

Cheung acknowledged that the government has some work to do in terms of explaining the matter and removing the fears, arguing that a lot of misunderstandings, misconceptions and misgivings among the public stem from lack of understanding of the proposed legislation.

On Sunday, Cheung said the efforts to explain the bill to foreign chambers of commerce have yielded results, and that some of the business chambers have agreed to support it.

In other comments, the chief secretary said the administration will continue to listen to lawmakers’ views and the public on the proposed changes in the extradition law.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 23

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.