On cross-border detention, Hong Kong and mainland China must strive for greater progress
In the wake of the complicated booksellers controversy, the initial strengthening of the notification system on detainees is a step forward
Given the complexity of the booksellers controversy, the meeting between the mainland and Hong Kong authorities on Tuesday was never expected to bring an end to the saga. It is good that both sides have made a promising start to address the issues involved, some of which have raised serious concerns over the “one country, two systems” principle. The sense of importance attached by Beijing to the review of the reciprocal notification mechanism on detainees is to be welcomed. While the tens of thousands of reports made by the authorities over the past 15 years show that the system is by and large working, there is still room for improvement. As admitted by mainland public security officials, the notification requirement is not legally binding. Currently, only four law enforcement agencies are covered, with no standardised time frame for reporting.
The new consensus for both sides to act within 14 days is a positive step forward. The undertaking by the Hong Kong government to try to extend the system to all law enforcement agencies is also in line with people’s aspirations.
Understandably, the showing of bookseller Lam Wing-kee’s videotaped confession and daily routine while in detention has raised eyebrows, with some describing it as a blatant show of the mainland’s assertiveness rather than an act of notification.
There remain questions not openly answered. Trustworthy or not, the mainland version of the story gives a different perspective and allows people to make an informed judgment on their own.
The public security officials may think it is necessary to make known the legal point that Lam is to face tougher legal action for what they regard as skipping bail on the mainland. The reality is that Lam cannot be repatriated in the absence of an agreement on the transfer of persons between the Hong Kong and the mainland jurisdictions. The point was made clear by our secretary for security yesterday.
It comes back to the need for a rendition agreement with the mainland in the long run. Despite years of negotiation, we are nowhere near a consensus on an extradition treaty or one on mutual legal assistance, partly because of the fundamental differences between the two jurisdictions. Under one country, two systems, the issue cannot be avoided forever and both sides need to handle it with care. But until such an agreement is in place, the notification system is the way by which authorities will be informed of detention of their citizens on the other side of the border. It is to be hoped that there will be further progress when the two sides meet again later this month.