GP Insights

GP Insights # 71, 15 June 2019

The Protests in Hong Kong: Against extradition law or Beijing?
Harini Madhusudhan

What happened?

The protests in Hong Kong was sudden, bet well attended. The anger is towards the plans of the government to allow extradition to mainland China. It all began with the gruesome murder of a teenager in Taiwan. Hence, the legislation was proposed to give China to enter into one-time agreements with places like Taiwan to transfer criminal suspects, such as the man from Hong Kong who escaped prosecution in the ‘Valentine’s Day Murder’ case by returning home. 

The decision to include China, whose justice system is separate from Hong Kong, led hundreds of thousands to protest and attempt to stop the bill’s passage. 

What is the background?

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam's government, in February, proposes legal changes that aim to ease the transfer of criminal suspects between jurisdictions. These regions lack formal extradition agreements, among themselves including mainland China. This move triggered concerns among activists, lawyers and the business community. Many began to warn that, exposing Hong Kong residents to China's legal system could put the city's autonomy and status as a financial hub at risk.

Mid- March, US lawmakers meet pro-democracy lawmakers. This included co-chairmen of the US-China Working Group- Illinois Republican Darin LaHood and Washington Democrat Rick Larsen, where it was announced that the Bill could have ‘some impact’ on Hong Kong’s special trading status. By the end of the month, the authorities in Hong Kong scaled back the proposal. Here they removed nine categories of financial crimes, including bankruptcy, securities and futures, and intellectual property. These concessions did very less to silence the outcry. 

In May, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke against the Bill, saying its passage would threaten Hong Kong’s rule of law. He also met with the pro-democracy advocates from Hong Kong for discussions on its autonomy and Beijing’s efforts to extend its reach. There were further amendments to the bill on 31 May 2019, where they chose to raise the proposed extradition limit to crimes that carry a maximum sentence of crime from the proposed law, this included criminal intimidation, giving firearms to unlicensed persons and some sex crimes. Ten days later, on 9 June 2019, hundreds of thousands of people march through central Hong Kong in opposition to the Bill. 

What does it mean?

The demonstrators surrounded Hong Kong’s legislature; the numbers ranged between 240,000 and 750,000 differing from official reports and those from the people protesting. The second hearing on the amendments which was initially scheduled for 20 June, was forced to be postponed indefinitely, owing to the pressure of the protests. What stands out is the international support, including strong opinions from world leaders, and government backing from Taiwan to the opposition of the Bill. Many countries across the world have extradition bills among themselves and something as harmless as this Bill is being projected as a threat to strategic autonomy. 

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