Hong Kong extradition bill
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Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks to the press before an Executive Council meeting in Tamar on Tuesday. Photo: Nora Tam

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam defends Beijing’s involvement in extradition bill row, pointing out foreign powers ‘escalated’ controversy

  • Chief executive says mainland involvement was only natural after unnamed foreign powers ‘escalated’ the controversy
  • She adds that critics seized a chance to attack the mainland’s courts and human rights record

Hong Kong’s leader on Tuesday defended Beijing’s weighing in on the extradition bill controversy, saying the involvement was only natural after foreign powers turned the dispute over fugitives into an issue about relations with the mainland.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said mainland officials offered their views last week only after the bill controversy was “escalated” by foreign powers, which seized an opportunity to attack the mainland’s legal system and human rights record.

“This is not just [Hong Kong’s] internal affairs. It has been escalated to the level of ‘one country, two systems’ and the constitutionality concerning the Basic Law,” Lam said.

One country, two systems is Beijing’s governing policy for Hong Kong, under which the city is promised a high degree of autonomy. The Basic Law is often referred to as the city’s mini-constitution.

Lam went further on Tuesday before meeting her Executive Council advisers, accusing foreign powers of damaging relations between the central government and Hong Kong.

Some [foreign powers] even criticised the legal system and human rights on the mainland.
Carrie Lam, chief executive of Hong Kong

“Some [foreign powers] even criticised the legal system and human rights on the mainland,” Lam said, adding that it was reasonable for mainland officials to give their views.

The Post reported that Wang Zhimin, director of the mainland’s liaison office, met more than 250 Beijing loyalists in Hong Kong in a two-hour, closed-door meeting on May 17.

Sources said Wang pointed fingers at US Consul General Kurt Tong and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, both of whom had met opposition lawmakers from Hong Kong.

Last week, the US State Department said Pompeo “expressed concern” that the bill could threaten the city’s rule of law.

In Beijing, Chinese Vice-Premier Han Zheng – China’s point man on Hong Kong – is expected to meet the Hong Kong Federation of Fujian Associations on Tuesday and the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.

The meetings come after Zhang Xiaoming, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, met a delegation led by executive councillor Ronny Tong Ka-wah and called for a rational debate over the extradition law on May 15.
Wang Zhimin, director of Beijing's liaison office, meets in April with representatives of the six major chambers of commerce in Hong Kong. Photo: Handout

The extradition bill has been at the centre of a political storm in Hong Kong since it was presented in March.

If passed, the bill would allow the transfer of fugitives from Hong Kong to jurisdictions with which it has no extradition deal, including Taiwan and mainland China.

Officials said the bill must be passed as soon as possible so Hongkonger Chan Tong-kai, who is wanted for the alleged murder of his girlfrien d in Taiwan, can be transferred to the self-ruled island.

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, however, said it would not seek the suspect’s return even with the passing of the bill, citing potential risks to the rights of its citizens.

Critics, including those from the pro-democracy camp and business sector, fear the extradition amendments would endanger Hongkongers targeted by Beijing.

Hong Kong security chief John Lee Ka-chiu said on Monday that the government plans to resume the second reading of the bill in a full Legislative Council meeting on June 12, bypassing the usual scrutiny committee.

Limit extradition law to set minds at ease, pro-Beijing heavyweight says

On Tuesday, Lam said the decision to bypass was “very difficult”, but that the move was in line with Legco’s rule book.

“This is not an act of disrespect of Legco,” Lam said. “We have simply no [other] option in order to break the deadlock.”

Lam was referring to conflicts between rival lawmakers in Legco, which have prevented the bills committee from electing a chairman after the bill was presented on April 3.

On Taiwan’s stance, Lam said only after the amendments were in place could there be a case-by-case transfer with Taiwan.

Lam said her top officials, including Lee and Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, would be meeting members from various sectors of the city to explain the bill.

Lee is set to meet the pro-government Liberal Party on Tuesday afternoon to address concerns from the business sector.