Hong Kong’s legislature is searching for a path forward with the government’s controversial extradition bill after a month of dysfunctional meetings.
DAB lawmaker Starry Lee, who chairs the House Committee, told lawmakers on Friday that they have until next Tuesday to submit written suggestions on the future of the committee vetting the extradition bill.
The House Committee – which manages the legislature’s internal matters – will then decide whether to call a meeting immediately or follow its regular schedule, Lee added.
The extradition bill, first proposed by the Hong Kong government in February, would allow extradition requests from jurisdictions with which the city had no prior agreement – most notably Taiwan and mainland China.
Pro-democracy lawmakers have sought to delay the bill’s legislative process, as lawyers, journalists, foreign politicians and businesses have raised concerns over the risk of residents being extradited to the mainland.
Democrats have previously feared that Lee would go for the “nuclear option” at the House Committee and accelerate the vetting process of the bill, circumventing the committee stage entirely.
However, Lee said on Friday that she did not intend for lawmakers to immediately settle on a course of action – only to discuss options and air their differences.
Pro-democracy camp convenor Claudia Mo said that the House Committee did not need to discuss a letter from pro-Beijing lawmaker Abraham Shek, because Shek was not the legitimate head of the bills committee.
Shek on Tuesday effectively asked the House Committee to take the committee off his hands, saying he could not prevent the meetings from descending into chaos.
Democrats have argued that lawmaker James To was the legitimate head of the bills committee – though in recent days they have said provisionally that they are open to negotiation.
At the Friday meeting, lawmaker Eddie Chu also questioned the role of the Legislative Council Secretariat – the legislature’s supposedly neutral administrators which sided with Shek. Chu added that the House Committee must first resolve the legitimacy crisis before any future plans can be discussed, and the meeting on Friday ended without any definitive conclusion.
No help from administration
Lee told lawmakers that she had met with Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung on the topic of the extradition bill. Lee told Cheung that she would welcome any proposals from the government that would help address the controversy, and would relay those ideas to the House Committee.
However, the legislature received no response from Cheung so far, Lee said.
Cheung had previously tried to distance the administration from the clashes at the legislature, saying on Tuesday that it will not broker talks between lawmakers or to interfere with “internal procedures.”
Democrats accused Cheung of shirking his responsibility and lacking sincerity, while Lee said she hoped that Cheung was aware of the tense atmosphere at the legislature and can help relieve it.
The House Committee is scheduled to meet again next Friday.
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