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Mon 24 June 2019
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Proposals by Hong Kong’s authorities to allow the extradition of suspects to China have caused outrage in the city. Does the law contravene the “one country, two systems” agreement between the UK and China?

Hundreds of thousands of people have been taking to the streets in Hong Kong to protest a Government plan to allow extradition to mainland China – a move seen by many as a serious erosion of civil liberties.

The scale of the demonstration has been compared to the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement, which took place five years ago but failed to counter China’s growing influence over the city’s elections.

This time, protesters are demanding that local authorities reconsider a proposal that would allow people arrested in Hong Kong to be sent to face trial in mainland China.

They fear this will result in Beijing targeting political opponents.

“Hong Kong’s proposed extradition law amendments constitute a direct threat to human rights in Hong Kong and should be dropped,” Polly Truscott, Amnesty International UK’s foreign affairs analyst, told Byline Times.

“If enacted, this law would extend the ability of the mainland authorities to target critics, human rights activists, journalists, NGO workers and anyone else in Hong Kong, much in the same way they do at home.

This puts the British Government in a unique position in that it has a responsibility to ensure China is upholding its end of the agreement. But, a desire for a strong trading relationship has often taken priority.

“The proposed changes would allow defendants to be handed over to a judicial system on the mainland that offers no protection whatsoever against politically motivated prosecutions by the authorities and is rife with torture and other forms of ill treatment, forced confessions, unfair trials and a lack of meaningful remedies.”

The pretext for the extradition legislation is a Hong Kong woman who was murdered while on holiday with her boyfriend in Taiwan. The boyfriend is now wanted for the murder, but he has returned home and cannot be sent to Taiwan to face trial as there is no formal extradition agreement in place.

Hong Kong’s leaders have now used the incident to fast track an extradition agreement with Taiwan, as well as China. However, Taiwan has said it would not agree to the extradition arrangement because it would treat Taiwan as part of China.


Beyond having a potential impact on human rights, this legislation could represent a violation of the legally binding Sino-British Joint Declaration which was signed between the UK and China in 1984.

This agreement came into effect in 1997, when Hong Kong was handed to Beijing, and it will be in place until 2047.

A key pillar of the declaration is the “one country, two systems” agreement, which provides Hong Kong with a degree of autonomy from Beijing and protects the city from having to adopt the same laws and systems as China.

This puts the British Government in a unique position in that it has a responsibility to ensure China is upholding its end of the agreement. But, a desire for a strong trading relationship has often taken priority.

Hong Kong’s last British governor, Lord Chris Patten, told a 2016 hearing at the US Congress: “If I could be very diplomatic, I would say that I think that the British Government has been restrained in its comments on what has been happening in Hong Kong. It produces a six-monthly report on the affairs in Hong Kong and that is a fairly neutral and – I’ve said myself – rather anodyne document.”

He added: “There is a very quaint notion that you can never disagree with China, that whatever China does, it is the Middle Kingdom and you have to go along with it and that if you don’t go along with it, you risk not being able to sell things to China, you risk doing damage to your economy.”

If enacted, this law would extend the ability of the mainland authorities to target critics, human rights activists, journalists, NGO workers and anyone else in Hong Kong, much in the same way they do at home.

Polly Truscott, Amnesty International UK

The restraint has emboldened Beijing, which has become increasingly aggressive towards the UK. An example of this came in 2017 when its Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said that the Sino-British declaration was a “historical document that no longer has any realistic meaning”.

He went on to say: “Britain has no sovereignty, no governing power and no supervising power over Hong Kong. I hope relevant parties will take note of this reality”.

The comments came as the US was raising serious concerns about civil liberties and freedom of the press in China, while the UK’s former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the principle of “one country, two systems” is “functioning well”.

Benedict Rogers, chair of the human rights group Hong Kong Watch, acknowledged the UK’s failures, but said that the Government’s stance had improved in recent years.

“In fairness to the British Government and the current Foreign Secretary, I think that they have been doing much more in the past year or two than they had in the past,” he said.

“For too many years, the UK failed to stand up for the people of Hong Kong, but, in the past few years, the position has improved somewhat. The six-monthly reports which the Foreign Secretary publishes in Parliament have become more robust, and the current Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has issued more statements, and stronger statements, on Hong Kong than any of his predecessors.

“That said, I believe there is more that the UK can and should do.

“The Sino-British Joint Declaration is a legal treaty lodged at the UN, so it would be worth the UK beginning the process of exploring what action could be taken by the UN or through relevant judicial bodies such as the International Court of Justice in response to violations of that treaty.

“In regard to the extradition bill, if it passes, the UK should consider issuing a travel warning, as Taiwan has said it will do.”

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Mr Wong has also called for the UK to add a human rights clause to any future trade deal with Hong Kong and for Britain to lead the way in a global coalition that willing to speak up for Hong Kong’s autonomy.

Polly Truscott, of Amnesty International, added: “On the face of it, the UK doesn’t appear to hold much sway over China’s human rights performance – but that doesn’t mean it should not continue to make every effort to do so.

“While the UK’s human rights calls on China are often rejected openly, and it’s seemingly yet failed to get China to back a much-needed Security Council resolution on war crimes in Myanmar, the UK’s persistent calling out of human rights abuses in China is important.

“Such abuses cannot be silenced and it provides an important act of solidarity with brave activists facing reprisals for their work. The UK’s continued funding of human rights work in China is also vital.”


On Monday, the UK’s Minister for Asia, Mark Field, told MPs that Hong Kong’s proposed extradition laws come close to breaching the text of the Sino-British declaration and warned of a “chilling effect” on the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong’s citizens.

“Hong Kong must enjoy the full measure of its high degree of autonomy and rule of law as set out in the joint declaration and enshrined in the basic law,” he said.

Tensions in the city eventually boiled over on Wednesday when demonstrators attempted to storm Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, leading to clashes with riot police.

For too many years, the UK failed to stand up for the people of Hong Kong, but, in the past few years, the position has improved somewhat.

Benedict Rogers, Hong Kong Watch

The city’s leaders later announced a debate on the legislation had been postponed to 20 June.

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, said in an interview with a local television station: “It is very clear that this is no longer a peaceful assembly, but a public and organised riot and it is impossible that this is action that loves and protects Hong Kong”.

Earlier in the day, she said that she did not have a guilty conscience over the proposals and compared demonstrators to stubborn children.

Come and Meet Scilla Elworthy at Byline Festival 23-26 August 2019

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