Hong Kong extradition bill
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Vice-Premier Han Zheng meets a visiting delegation at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Photo: Hong Kong Commercial Daily

Beijing declares full support for Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam over controversial extradition bill

  • Han Zheng, China’s point man on Hong Kong and Macau affairs, says proposed amendments will help city to demonstrate rule of law and justice
  • Vice-premier urges different sectors in Hong Kong to support bill

Beijing has issued a strong endorsement of Hong Kong’s leader over her controversial extradition bill, with Vice-Premier Han Zheng becoming the most senior Chinese official to weigh in and voice the central government’s full support for changing the city’s fugitive transfer law.

Han, China’s point man on Hong Kong and Macau affairs, on Tuesday said the bill being pushed by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s government would help the city to demonstrate the rule of law and justice.

He also urged everyone in Hong Kong to support the amended legislation, which would allow the transfer of suspects to jurisdictions the city does not have an extradition deal with, including mainland China.

“All sectors have to work hard together to help Hong Kong build a good image in the aspect of the rule of law around the world,” he said.

Carrie Lam says the central government’s involvement is natural. Photo: Nora Tam
Earlier on Tuesday, Lam herself defended senior Beijing officials wading into the political row that has gripped the city over concerns the central government’s critics will be victimised under the amended law.

While Lam has made the bill a matter of her credibility and ability to govern, she insisted Beijing’s involvement was only natural after foreign powers turned it into a sovereignty issue for China.

“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, referring to Beijing’s governing policy for Hong Kong and the city’s mini-constitution.

“Some [foreign powers] even criticised the legal system and human rights on the mainland.”

Opposition to the bill has triggered unprecedented clashes in the Legislative Council between opposition and pro-establishment lawmakers.

Tensions have worsened following the government’s announcement on Monday that it would fast-track the legislation, bypassing the usual clause-by-clause scrutiny by the bills committee, and take it directly to the full council on June 12 for a debate and vote.

Han expressed support for Lam’s embattled government at a meeting in the capital with a delegation from the Hong Kong Federation of Fujian Associations, a local group of influential businessmen and community leaders.

He noted Lam’s administration had proposed two legislative amendments, referring to the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019. They were compatible with the city’s mini-constitution, he said.

“The work complies with the relevant regulations of the Basic Law, and is beneficial to demonstrate the city’s rule of law, fairness and justice,” Han said, during the first five minutes of the meeting on camera.

“The central government completely supports the work launched by the Hong Kong government, and strongly believes that through the hard work of the government and the rational debate held by different sectors, doubts will surely be cleared and a consensus reached.”

The vice-premier with a delegation from the Hong Kong Federation of Fujian Associations. Photo: Hong Kong Commercial Daily

While Hong Kong’s pan-democrats oppose the bill over mistrust of mainland China’s legal system, officials are insisting it is essential to close a legal loophole currently preventing the extradition of a Hongkonger wanted for murder in Taiwan.

Han also praised Lam at Tuesday’s meeting for “governing in accordance with the law, daring to embrace difficulties and proactively participating in national strategies including the Greater Bay Area project”, which seeks to turn Hong Kong and 10 neighbouring cities into an economic powerhouse.

Han was expected to meet another Hong Kong delegation, from the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce, on Wednesday.

Jaime Sze Wine-him, vice-chairman of the federation, quoted Han as calling on them to “safeguard national security and support the fugitive amendments in accordance with the Basic Law”.

“He hopes all sectors in Hong Kong will put the focus on economic development and not turn Hong Kong into a focal point of politics,” Sze said.

The meeting in Beijing came as Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council and a US Congress group expressed fresh concerns about the bill.

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

And the Civil Human Rights Front, an umbrella body of pro-democracy groups, estimated that 300,000 people would join their third mass rally against the bill on June 9 – three days before it is tabled directly to Legco’s full council.

Several civil service unions issued statements in support of the bill, while Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu met the pro-business Liberal Party to address its concerns.

After the closed-door session, party leader Felix Chung Kwok-pan said Lee was able to allay some of the attendees’ fears.

He would not say whether the party would support the bill, only that it was prepared to table amendments to raise the bar for extradition requests.

But Simon Shi Kai-biu, former president of the Hong Kong Small and Medium Enterprises Association, said he remained unconvinced.

Taiwan’s agency in charge of mainland affairs reiterated it would not agree to the transfer of the wanted Hongkonger if the city’s extradition proposal put Taiwanese citizens at risk of being sent to the mainland.

“It will be Hong Kong authorities’ responsibility to bear if the suspects do not face justice,” it said.

Meanwhile, a group of Hong Kong legislators from both camps met four representatives of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a congressional body to advise Capitol Hill on the national security implications of the Beijing-Washington relationship.

Democrat lawmaker James To Kun-sun said a heated exchange over one hour covered all aspects of the extradition bill, including the legislative process and impact on the US-Hong Kong relationship.

Pro-establishment lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said the delegation was only on a regular fact-finding exercise.

“[There is] no sign that they have made any conclusion on Hong Kong’s special status,” Ip said, in a reference to the US-Hong Kong Policy Act, under which the city is treated differently from the rest of China.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Vice-Premier backs lam on fugitive legislationVice-premier backs Lam on fugitive transfer bill