The BBC reported on Monday that the British government will be suspending its extradition treaty with Hong Kong “immediately and indefinitely.”
Dominic Raab, the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary, announced the move in response to China’s introduction of a stringent national security law for Hong Kong earlier this month. The law gives the Chinese government more extensive powers that it’s never obtained before and could ultimately reshape how the region functions.
The new law’s broad criminal provisions have legal experts around the world worried about what this could mean for the semi-autonomous region. The broadness of the law’s text also has lawyers puzzled over what could be deemed as criminal by Beijing.
According to legal experts at the National People’s Congress Observer website, they noted three facets of the national security law that they found problematic:
“(1) its criminal provisions are worded in such a broad manner as to encompass a swath of what has so far been considered protected speech; (2) it provides for the direct application of mainland Chinese law—the notoriously restrictive Criminal Procedure Law no less—in Hong Kong in certain circumstances, outside the Annex III mechanism; and (3) it displaces certain core protections for the accused under Hong Kong law and grants the police sweeping investigative powers without judicial oversight.”
What experts see in the new law is that it allows Beijing to deem which activities it believes to be terroristic, secessionist, or insurrectionary in nature, criminal and punishable with severe penalties, including up to life imprisonment. Even the crime of “collusion with foreign or external forces” remains rather vague but broad in scope.
Arrests of pro-democracy advocates, expulsion of foreign journalists and reporters, dismantling of a political party advocating for Hong Kong’s independence, and disqualification of political candidates with opposing views are all events that the pro-Beijing stacked Hong Kong legislature has taken upon itself in solidarity with the mainland.
The passing of the new law is not the first time, especially in recent history, that Beijing has flexed its muscle over Hong Kong through the issuance of national security laws or the imprisonment of those that it deemed a threat to the People’s Republic of China.
Earlier this year, Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai, was sentenced to 10 years in prison by a Chinese court. He had been in and out of Chinese detention facilities since 2015 and has previously published books on the personal lives of members of the Chinese Communist Party. A holder of Swedish citizenship, Mr. Minhai mysteriously disappeared while on vacation in Thailand only to be found locked up in a Chinese prison along with four other booksellers. As the other booksellers were released, Mr. Minhai remained in detention while Sweden’s foreign minister demanded his release. China does not recognize dual citizenship.
The UK’s decision to suspend its extradition treaty with Hong Kong shadows that of President Donald Trump’s announcement last Tuesday at the White House that he had signed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act into law as well as an executive order ending Hong Kong’s preferential treatment status.
The President’s Hong Kong Autonomy Act places sanctions on any entities that assist in violating Hong Kong’s regional autonomy and any financial institutions that engage in business with those entities.
Another reason at the forefront of Messrs. Trump and Raab’s announcements are China’s alleged human rights abuses that have come to light over the past couple of years. These abuses include their mistreatment of the Uighur minority. In his announcement, Mr. Raab stated that “We will protect our vital interests. We will stand up for our values and we will hold China to its international obligations.”
Mr. Raab also noted his fear that the extradition treaty, prior to its suspension, allowed for the possibility of those extradited from the UK to Hong Kong to be brought into China and prosecuted there. He also stated that the UK’s embargo on exports of firearms and explosives, among other items, to Hong Kong would remain in place as it has been since 1989.
Hong Kong was a British colony for over a century up until 1997 when its 99-year lease expired and was handed back to China, with conditions. Under the agreed upon “One Country, Two Systems” arrangement, the semi-autonomous region is allowed to enact its own laws in order to address its own national security issues, continue operating as a capitalist society, and allow free speech, press, and religious practice, all up until at least the year 2047.
Last April, Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam, drew scrutiny as well as months of protests when she unveiled an extradition bill allowing for the city’s criminal suspects, as well as anyone else deemed by Beijing a threat, to be sent to the mainland. The bill was ultimately withdrawn but not scrapped.
With Hong Kong’s legislative elections this fall, the pro-democracy group just might have a chance to win back seats and thwart any attempts of pro-Beijing legislators trying to pass new national security laws to further undermine Hong Kong’s rightful status as semi-autonomous and hopefully, one day, independent.
Cover photo (Jérôme Favre/EPA)