China’s stranglehold on Hong Kong



May 21, 2019 - 10:11 AM

When a Hong Kong Legislative Council meeting ended in a brawl a week ago Saturday with one lawmaker hospitalized, the Hong Kong government denounced the ”unprecedented” fight. But what did it expect? The weekend scuffle concerned a proposed extradition law that would allow the transfer of local residents from Hong Kong to Mainland China and eviscerate Hong Kong’s legal independence.

In the 1997 handover from British to Chinese rule, Beijing promised Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy under “one country, two systems” until 2047. But China has gradually increased its control over Hong Kong law and politics. It has pressed the city to remove pro-democracy lawmakers from office, outlaw the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party, refuse a visa to a foreign journalist who had moderated an event featuring the HKNP founder, and last month imprison leaders of the 2014 pro-democracy protests.


AN EXTRADITION law could be the knockout blow. It would compromise Hong Kong’s independent legal system by allowing case-by-case extradition to Mainland China and elsewhere. Beijing could accuse anyone living in Hong Kong of one of 37 eligible crimes and demand he be sent to a Mainland court for trial, where the legal system is under control of the Communist Party. In 2018 China’s Jiangsu province acquitted 43 people while convicting 96,271.

A Hong Kong court would have to approve the extradition request, an ostensible safeguard against political charges. But it’s not clear how judges could validate evidence underlying a request, and few believe the city would refuse a demand from Beijing.

The Hong Kong government says the bill is closing a loophole. It wants to extradite a Hong Kong man to Taiwan, where he is accused of murdering his girlfriend. But Taipei wants nothing to do with the bill, which it fears would allow Taiwanese living in Hong Kong to be extradited to the Mainland. Taipei wants the “relevant suspect to face justice,” said Chiu Chui-cheng, the deputy minister of the island’s Mainland Affairs Council. But “we have to ask whether the amendment proposed by the Hong Kong government is politically motivated.”

The worry is global. Last week’s report from the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission notes that “one major concern is that the bill could allow Beijing to pressure the Hong Kong government to extradite U.S. citizens under false pretenses.” There are 85,000 Americans in Hong Kong.

Politically charged arrests of foreigners in China are increasing. After Canada arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou at American request, two Canadians in China were arrested and charged with spying. Journalists and Chinese dissidents who have settled in Hong Kong could be similarly vulnerable.

Hong Kong has prospered because its laws protect investors on the shores of China’s massive market. The International Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong warns the extradition risk would “lead people to reconsider whether to choose Hong Kong as their base of operations or the regional headquarters.”

Pro-Beijing lawmakers have a legislative majority and could pass the bill by July. But tens of thousands of Hong Kongers protested it last month. The U.S. and the West should join them in denouncing the effort to ensnare the Fragrant Harbor — and perhaps their own citizens — in a Chinese trap.