Hong Kong government may have bitten off more than it can chew with extradition plan
- Given strong opposition on both political and business fronts, government faces a rough ride meeting its summer deadline to get Legco endorsement for proposal to expand law governing transfer of fugitives
It looks like the government may have bitten off more than it can chew with its controversial proposal to change the city’s extradition law, judging by the heightened resistance it is facing.
However, opposition to the idea is spreading from the political front to the business sphere.
While the government would have been prepared for the expected criticism from pan-democrat politicians, it appears to have been caught off guard by the pushback from the usually pro-establishment business community.
The extent of that resistance was evidenced by a local business heavyweight bringing up the issue in Beijing during the “two sessions”, China’s most important annual political event of the year.
Peter Lam Kin-ngok, a Hong Kong member of China’s top political advisory body, told reporters he had conveyed the worries of the city’s business community to the central authorities concerned.
Lam’s comments raised eyebrows, not only because he is a businessman with extensive commercial and political connections on the mainland and overseas, but also because he has been at the forefront of promoting Hong Kong as “Asia’s world city” for six years as chairman of the Tourism Board. And just before the end of his term later this month, he has been assigned another mission by the government – to replace tycoon Vincent Lo Hong-sui as the next chairman of the city’s trade promotion arm, the Trade Development Council, in June.
Lam knows only too well what negative perceptions can do to the city’s reputation of having a free and business-friendly environment.
Two local political parties representing the business sector, the Business and Professionals Alliance and the Liberal Party, have also voiced their concerns and recently met the Security Bureau, while the city’s biggest foreign business group, the American Chamber of Commerce, issued a strongly worded statement, warning of the mainland’s “flawed” judicial system.
Lam may be playing smart to bring such concerns to Beijing directly, at a delicate time – a major highlight of the ongoing annual plenary sessions is to update the foreign investment law aimed at ensuring a fairer and more favourable environment, which will include intellectual property protection and banning forced technology transfers.
Lam would know Beijing does not want a knock-on effect from this latest controversy in Hong Kong, as the prospects of ending the US-China trade war are still far from certain.
The fact that he went public with his concerns means something: while improved laws and regulations are welcome, implementation can be a problem sometimes on the mainland. That could explain the local business community’s fears here, particularly over the risk of being implicated in white-collar crimes across the border without even realising that rules had been broken.
For Beijing, it could be a matter of frustration that 21 years after the change of Hong Kong’s sovereignty, the mainland side has returned a number of fugitives to the city, but there are no reciprocal transfers because of the lack of a rendition agreement.
This legal loophole has also prevented it from going after economic crime suspects, including corrupt officials, after they fled to Hong Kong. At the same time, Beijing also has every reason to address the concerns raised by the local and foreign business communities.
This is local legislation for Hong Kong, after all, but it’s for the government to listen to opposing views and keep Beijing updated on concerns.
The usual “no need to worry” line without a more convincing justification is not going to be enough for the government to meet its intended summer deadline to get the bill passed before the end of the Legislative Council’s term this year.
The crux of the issue is, will the government listen and see where there is room for adjustment?