Hong Kong’s Extradition Protests: A Fight for Hong Kong’s Sovereignty?
Cheryl Pui Yau Ip, Foreign Correspondent in Hong Kong, provides an analysis of the extradition protests in Hong Kong and what motivated people to take action.
At the high point of a series of huge rallies, Hong Kong saw up to one million people protesting against the proposed extradition bill. Most recently there was, however, another turn of events following multiple popular rallies in early July; on 27 and 28 July police and protesters clashed as extradition demands have spiralled into demands about human rights and democracy. Despite Carrie Lam (Chief Executive of Hong Kong) admitting the extradition bill is now ‘dead’, it has not been fully withdrawn and so the protesters have continued to fight their cause – and face the dangers that come with it.
The driving force behind the protests is that the extradition bill could allow suspects from Hong Kong to be sent to mainland China to face trial. Those who are protesting against the bill also fear it could lead to arbitrary detentions and unfair trials. Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 but has kept its own system of justice according to the idea of ‘One Country; Two Systems’. However, some residents in Hong Kong see this bill as the first step to change Hong Kong’s governance back to ‘One Country with One System’ in judicial and political terms. In effect, this extradition bill could cause a merge between the judicial systems of Hong Kong and China – that for so long has been separate.
Some residents in Hong Kong see this bill as the first step to change Hong Kong’s governance back to “One Country with One System” in judicial and political terms.
In terms of the bill’s context, the Hong Kong government initially proposed legal amendments in February that would allow the city to handle case-by-case extradition requests from jurisdictions that it previously did not have agreements with – most notably Taiwan and China. The bill’s proposal was triggered by a murder case in Taiwan involving Chan Tong Kai, a man from Hong Kong, who has been accused of murdering his pregnant girlfriend in Taipei. Chan, however, fled back to Hong Kong where he was arrested and jailed on money-laundering charges, not murder. He only had to face money-laundering charges because Hong Kong does not have an extradition deal agreed with Taiwan, which is why the government have said they wanted to introduce the bill.
Critics meanwhile are protesting against the rushed nature of the bill, which has even been described as an attempt to win over China’s Communist government. Many residents also believe they were not given any forum to discuss the proposed measure. Some Hong Kong citizens argued ‘the government should discuss the bill first instead of introducing it rapidly, especially when the bill involves the judicial system in China – a system which does not promote human rights’. Protesters believe the bill is trying to suppress the concept of democracy and human rights through restricting freedom of speech and this is what has led countries including the United States, United Kingdom, and Taiwan to intervene in its uptake. Taiwan has now stated, because of these potential ramifications, that their government rejects the bill and refuses to handle the murder case through an extradition agreement with Hong Kong.
Having examined the situation, it seems that many residents in Hong Kong are fearful of being extradited to mainland China, especially, because of the differences between the rule of law in Communist China and Hong Kong. The main purpose of the protests, starting on 9 June, are to fight for democracy and to oppose Chinese extradition. Many protesters from Hong Kong describe the bill as a rendition – where suspects accused of a serious crime would be extradited to Communist China and would face their harsh penal system. Joshua Wong Chi Fung, a Pro-Democracy Activist, argued ‘perhaps in the worst scenario, activists might be jailed in mainland China indefinitely,’ despite being Hong Kong residents. Protesters are determined to debate this bill because they believe it could cause further erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy from mainland China. Most importantly, if the bill was introduced, citizens of Hong Kong may not be able to enjoy to the same standard of free speech. In other words, Communist ideas could gain more agency in Hong Kong, while liberal ideas, debate and protest could decline.
As well as leading to popular protests, the proposed extradition bill has caused clashes between protesters and police, a storming of the Legislative Council by protesters and pressure for Carrie Lam to resign. While protesters have taken to the streets with slogans such as ‘No China Extradition’ and ‘Withdraw the Proposed Ammendment’ , business leaders are also worried. They have raised concerns that this legislation could undermine Hong Kong’s competitiveness, considering the city’s international reputation as a financial hub. The current protests in Hong Kong are not just about a new legislative bill; protesters believe they are a fight for Hong Kong’s democratic sovereignty and that their activity will have ramifications in the years to come.