Hong Kong has proposed a controversial bill which would allow extradition to mainland China. A series of protests have taken place against the bill since late April when 1.03 million people attended a demonstration, the most since 2014’s pro-democracy Umbrella movement. Hong Kong’s will to oppose the legislation does not appear to be waning as hundreds of thousands demonstrated at 9 June’s rally.
The bill, described as “an assault on Hong Kong’s values, security and stability” by the territory’s last British governor, Chris Patten, has received extensive criticism from the international community. EU officials met with the city’s leader, Carrie Lam, to express their concerns for their own citizens whilst Canada and the UK issued a joint statement, registering their disquiet over the potential consequences for rights and freedom.
Words are expected to become actions as demonstrations against the bill have been organized around the world, in cities such as Sydney, Berlin and Vancouver, indicating international support for local opposition. This follows a record turnout of 180, 000 at the Tiananmen vigil, due in part to the extradition bill furore. In response, Lam simply stated that “it shows that Hong Kong is a very free place.”
Lam’s determination to pass the Beijing-backed bill and to ignore the sentiment behind its opposition endangers the very freedom that Lam is using in order to avoid facing this new political reality. The removal of financial crimes, such as tax evasion, from the list of extraditable offences is a clear attempt to appease Hong Kong’s powerful business community to facilitate passing the bill. This, coupled with Lam’s survival of the vote of no confidence, due to the legislature’s pro-Beijing majority, is indicative of the erosion of Hong Kong’s civil liberties since the 1997 handover.
Since the end of British rule in Hong Kong, the city has operated under the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ principle. This was meant to ensure Hong Kong’s legislative, economic and judicial autonomy until 2047 as well as protecting rights and freedoms which are not enjoyed in mainland China. Beijing, however, has sought to extend its influence over the city and limit the discrepancies between it and the rest of China.
In February 2018, Poon Hiu-wing was murdered in Taiwan by her boyfriend who then fled back to Hong Kong. As there is no extradition agreement between Hong Kong and Taiwan, the murder has thus gone unpunished. Whilst this case may be officially cited as the reason for the proposed bill, it echoes Beijing’s previous efforts to undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy.
In 2003, the government proposed the anti-subversion law, Article 23, which many feared would lead to the loss of freedom of speech, amongst others. 2014’s pro-democracy protests stemmed from the National Congress’ decision to pre-screen candidates for the Hong Kong Chief Executive election, restricting Hong Kong’s citizens’ choice and ensuring loyalty to Beijing.
If the proposal is successful, the people’s right to demonstrate their dissatisfaction and oppose the government publicly will be in a precarious position. It could well signal the end of the city’s special status of greater freedoms and rights, heralding instead a new era in which Hong Kong is just another Chinese city under Beijing’s control.