Hong Kong must sign rendition treaty with mainland China
The lack of any formal arrangements clouds our most cherished freedoms and the efficacy of the ‘one country, two systems’ principle
The mysterious disappearance of billionaire Xiao Jianhua from a luxury Hong Kong hotel has rekindled fears about mainland law-enforcement authorities illegally operating in the city. There have been disturbing reports that Xiao was abducted by mainland agents, although Hong Kong police say they have not uncovered any evidence to support this. It now seems more likely he was persuaded to return to the mainland to assist with investigations. But the facts are uncertain. The case, following the disappearance of Hong Kong booksellers last year, has prompted further questions about whether the boundaries between one country and two systems are being respected. There is a lack of transparency and official information. The circumstances of Xiao’s disappearance must be explained.
His case has also highlighted the lack of any formal arrangement for the transfer of suspects to and from the mainland. The issue became controversial in 1998, when notorious gangster Cheung Tsz-keung was tried and executed on the mainland for offences committed in Hong Kong. There was no process to provide for his return to the city to face charges. The Hong Kong government responded by starting work on a rendition agreement with the mainland. It put suggested principles before the Legislative Council that year. But 19 years later, no agreement has been reached. This is a serious omission.
Hong Kong has extradition agreements with many countries, including Britain and the United States. Similar arrangements should be put in place with the mainland. The reason for the lack of progress lies in the complexities and sensitivities involved. Hong Kong’s legal system is very different to that of the mainland. Safeguards would be needed, especially to ensure that suspects who are transferred from Hong Kong will not be executed, will only be tried for offences which exist in the city and will receive a fair trial. Striking a deal will not be easy, but similar provisions are commonly included in many extradition treaties. The difficulties must be overcome. The lack of an agreement means transfers are conducted informally and only go one way – from the mainland to Hong Kong. A suspect in an acid attack case, who was arrested in Urumqi after seven years on the run, was returned to the city last week. A rendition agreement would ensure the transfer of suspects across the border is governed by a transparent legal process, overseen by the courts. It would prevent Hong Kong from being used as a safe haven for fugitives from the mainland and help avoid further cross-border controversies.