On Sunday, over a million people in Hong Kong marched in protest against the Hong Kong government’s proposed extradition bill, the largest one-day protest in the territory’s history. Thousands have taken to the streets in subsequent days, and now the authorities have delayed the second reading of the bill. There is, however, little reason for optimism that it can be stopped.
The bill proposes to amend Hong Kong’s laws to allow an unprecedented extradition arrangement between Hong Kong and China. This would permit Chinese authorities to seek the extradition of any person in Hong Kong, regardless of nationality, wanted in China for serious criminal offences.
According to the Hong Kong government, the bill comes in response to a request by Taiwanese authorities to extradite from Hong Kong a man wanted in Taiwan for criminal charges. It would also be a means of addressing a supposed “loop-hole” in existing legislation that prevents Hong Kong from having an extradition arrangement with China.
Under the proposed bill, any person in Hong Kong could be subject to arrest and extradition to China to face criminal charges, where entrapment, torture and forced televised confession are used as accepted means of legally persecuting critics. For political reasons, any request made of Hong Kong by a Chinese court that is in the interests of the Chinese Communist Party cannot be declined.
This bill represents but another step, albeit a significant step, towards what so many Hong Kong people had feared: complete integration into a China defined by the Chinese Communist Party. The guarantee of One Country, Two Systems has already become One System, Two Forms. As a born and raised Hong Konger, it pains me tremendously to watch the dismantling of all that was truly important about my home.
In its defence, the Government highlights that many countries, including France and Spain, have extradition arrangements with China. The difference that the Hong Kong government has glossed over is that it is improbable that it could turn down such a request because of its existence as a Special Administrative Region of the mainland.
Within Hong Kong, there has been unity among human rights organisations, international NGOs and the city’s often divided community groups. In an extremely unusual move, several members of Hong Kong’s judiciary have felt obliged to express their concerns, to the point that one judge was reprimanded for signing a petition in opposition to the bill. Most surprisingly, the business community has taken a clear position against the Hong Kong government on what amounts to a political decision – a historic first.
However, despite the unprecedented opposition, the extradition bill will be enacted. Such pessimism is no emotional outburst but the new reality of politics in Hong Kong. Chief Executive Carrie Lam boasts that she is not one to listen to the people, and that she would be willing to by-pass the legislature bills committee to pass the bill. Neither procedure nor the Basic Law matter. With the Liberal Party backing the proposal, the government has the numbers to pass the bill, ensuring a facade of normal legislative procedure continues.
Speculation is rife over whether this determination to pass the bill, despite the unprecedented opposition, is due to an order from Beijing. Were this not the case, and talk of Beijing interfering in Hong Kong’s supposed autonomy is genuinely unfounded, then why is the Hong Kong government continuing to insist on it?
There is then an understanding, born of personal experience, that the Chinese Communist Party cannot allow the Chinese people, any Chinese people, to feel that they have a say in the national project as defined by the Party. Hong Kong people must learn to accept a new relationship with authority and they must learn to accept a new understanding of both the role of the media and the rule of law. President Xi has been very clear in this message, not just to Hong Kong but to Chinese people everywhere.
Three years ago, when news broke of the Causeway Bay booksellers, who were kidnapped by Chinese authorities and taken to China to “confess” their “crimes”, I asked a well-connected friend in Hong Kong what he thought. His reply proved insightful: “I am surprised they have allowed this sort of thing to be public. We all know it happens. They want us to know.”
Today, Beijing wants Hong Kong’s people to know that they are powerless; and that as long as the Communist Party defines China the future of China, the Chinese people and the Chinese identity is theirs and theirs alone to decide. It is not our government, there is only the government.
(The original article is published on Telegram on 12 June 19)