Hong Kong’s controversial extradition bill has drawn criticism from the European Union and US politicians on the same day, while lawmakers deferred to an accelerated legislative process laid down by the government.
On Friday, eight commissioners from the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) wrote to Chief Executive Carrie Lam asking that the bill be “withdrawn from consideration.”
“We believe the proposed legislation would irreparably damage Hong Kong’s cherished autonomy and protections for human rights by allowing the Chinese government to request extradition of business persons, journalists, rights advocates, and political activists residing in Hong Kong,” the letter read.
The commissioners added that the bill could “negatively impact the unique relationship between the US and Hong Kong” – referring to the longstanding US policy of giving the city preferential treatment over mainland China.
The bipartisan letter was signed by Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton, Steve Daines from the US Senate, as well as James McGovern, Ben McAdams, Christopher Smith, Thomas Suozzi and Brian Mast from the US House of Representatives.
Earlier in the day, the European Union Office in Hong Kong and Macau issued a diplomatic démarche, in the form of a protest note, also addressed to Carrie Lam.
The EU Office confirmed that representatives from its member states met with Lam to “carry out a démarche reiterating their concerns regarding the government’s proposed amendments to Hong Kong’s Fugitive Offenders Ordinance.”
The CECC and the European Union Office joined a growing list of foreign bodies expressing concern over the bill, which would allow Hong Kong to transfer fugitives to jurisdictions with which it has no prior rendition deal.
Lam’s office confirmed to the press that the chief executive met EU representatives on Friday, but did not say what was discussed.
Democrats foiled at LegCo
Over the past two months, pro-democracy lawmakers have sought to stall the bill over concerns that residents may risk being extradited to mainland China – a concern echoed by lawyers, journalists, foreign politicians and businesses.
However, those efforts were curtailed on Friday as the legislature’s House Committee – which has a pro-Beijing camp majority – voted 40-19 to bypass committee scrutiny for the bill. It meant that lawmakers acceded to the demands of security chief John Lee, who previously said the bill must return to the main legislative chamber by June 12.
The House Committee also voted 40-18 to dissolve the committee vetting the extradition bill. Over the past month, a legitimacy dispute between the pro-democracy and pro-Beijing camps had led to heated clashes between lawmakers.
Democrats James To previously claimed to be the legitimate chair of the relevant bills committee, whereas his political rivals said that the role belonged to lawmaker Abraham Shek. The debate became moot after the bills committee was dissolved by the House Committee, as democrats tried unsuccessfully to block the move.
At Friday’s meeting, the pro-democracy camp spent two hours out of the five-hour-long session raising procedural issues, before four of their members – Claudia Mo, Eddie Chu, Au Nok-hin and Ted Hui – were ejected from the chamber for protesting.
The Legislative Council Secretariat also implemented new measures targeting reporters, claiming that they were necessary to prevent the chaotic scenes that occurred earlier this month.
The secretariat used a cordon to divide the corridor outside Meeting Room 1 into a “press area” and “LegCo members’ aisle,” and kept photographers away from the floor of the meeting room.
Speaking after the meeting, pro-democracy camp convenor Claudia Mo said that House Committee chairperson and DAB lawmaker Starry Lee wanted to convey a false impression that the legislature had “calmed down.”
“If [Lee] is pretending to de-escalate the situation, we will contest this till the end,” Mo said. “The biggest reason to persist is to expose the hypocrisy of the pro-Beijing camp. They are in cahoots with the government, believing that they can fool the public if they put on a good show.”
The Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) has planned a protest against the bill for June 9 – its third in the space of three months – and said they hope to rally 300,000 Hongkongers.
‘Unlikely’ to target foreigners
On Thursday, Beijing-backed newspapers Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao cited an unnamed “authoritative source” saying that the extradition bill will chiefly target mainland residents and Hongkongers who commit crimes in the mainland and flee to Hong Kong.
While the law could target Hongkongers who threatened national security in Hong Kong, the source said that those cases would “generally be dealt with by Hong Kong courts according to local laws” – but did not rule out the possibility of extradition.
The law could also affect foreigners who commit crimes targeted at the Chinese state or its citizens, but the source said such cases would be “very unlikely” and that China would need to consider extra factors such as diplomatic relationships.
The comments came after Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng spoke in favour of the extradition bill on Tuesday – becoming the highest-ranking Chinese state official to give his public endorsement.
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