City Beat

Next chief executive will face challenge of striking rendition deal with mainland China

Recent cross-border law enforcement cases and mysterious disappearances of individuals are reminders that issue is a political time bomb to be defused

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 February, 2017, 4:48pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 February, 2017, 8:55pm

Like it or not, it seems the mysterious disappearance of mainland tycoon Xiao Jianhua has not yet stirred up a political storm on the scale of the Causeway Bay booksellers saga, although his case, by nature, can be more complicated. This is quite telling.

No doubt, there are many who can’t help but worry whether this is another booksellers type of case where mainland law enforcement agents were suspected to have operated in Hong Kong – something which is not allowed by the city’s Basic Law. But statements by Hong Kong police as well as various sources the Post has talked to, both in the city and on the mainland, suggested otherwise.

Xiao went back to the mainland – via normal border crossing procedures – as a result of his long-time “negotiations” with authorities there who need his assistance to investigate the alleged manipulation leading to the 2015 stock market crash, as well as his business links with relatives of some state leaders.

In the booksellers case, there was no record of border crossing when Lee Po, an associate of the publishing house behind many books banned on the mainland, vanished in late 2015. His disappearance, along with that of four others linked to the publisher, triggered public fears that they had been “kidnapped”. But Lee later insisted that he had gone back to the mainland voluntarily, by his “own means”.

Still, the worries of Hongkongers won’t go away easily, given the lack of official information on Xiao’s case. Considering his special background as one of China’s richest men with extensive business and political networks on the mainland, the whole matter is more than a mystery.

As the city’s leadership race enters a critical stage, this serves as a timely reminder to all chief executive contenders about the complexity of Hong Kong’s top job.

Of all four contestants grilled by the media for their views on the latest controversy, former security chief Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee has given perhaps the most concrete reply. She pointed out the need for an extradition agreement with the mainland.

Xiao’s case initially prompted immediate calls for speeding up the improvement of a cross-border notification mechanism between police forces on both sides. But people soon realised that Xiao, who is not a Hong Kong permanent resident, is excluded from the benefits of such a system anyway.

That raises the question: would Ip’s suggestion of a rendition agreement with the mainland help in a similar situation like this?

The mainland side will most certainly thank Ip for reviving the issue – almost 20 years after the handover, there is only the current unilateral arrangement for the mainland to send back Hong Kong fugitives, but not vice versa due to many political considerations.

It so happened that just two days after Xiao’s case blew up, Guangdong police sent back a murder suspect to Hong Kong. Was that a fresh yet subtle reminder for a reciprocal arrangement sometime?

But it’s still too early to say where to start and whether our next leader has the political will to proceed with talks on a rendition deal, given all the legal and political complexities involved, as well as growing cross-border tension and not enough trust between both sides.

But when Hong Kong asks for a more efficient notification mechanism, will the mainland side still be patient enough to see the city turning into a convenient haven for its fugitives, especially those involved in economic malpractices?

The city and its new leader will have to face this challenge sooner or later. It can’t wait forever.