Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam hits back at EU officials who protested against controversial extradition bill, saying they did not pinpoint concerns
- Chief executive says rare move by consulates is not entirely unheard of, but merely stating a stance on a matter will not take the discussion further
- She hints that the government will respond in Legco to concerns by lawmakers and the public
Hong Kong’s leader has hit back at European Union officials in the city who formally protested against the controversial extradition bill, saying that foreign diplomats could not pinpoint concerns and were only stating their stance on the matter.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor shrugged off comments by the consulates on Saturday, dismissing the need for further discussion a day after meeting 11 EU representatives in her office and receiving their diplomatic note.
Sources said the group asked Lam to add safeguards for the judiciary to take international human rights standards into account in vetting fugitive transfer requests under the amended legislation.
Hong Kong officials are pushing for a contentious legislative amendment allowing crime suspects to be transferred to places with which the city does not have an extradition deal, including mainland China.
“[The EU consuls general] have expressed concern, but I asked them what exactly was their point of concern, and which part of the law caused worry for their citizens and businesses?” Lam said of Friday’s one-hour exchange.
“I’m not sure if it was because there was not enough time, but I did not hear more on the matter.”
The legislature, which has been in deadlock over the proposal, will resume debating the bill on June 12.
The situation has sparked international concern, including from the United States, Britain and Canada.
A bipartisan group of eight US congressmen, including senators Tom Cotton and Marco Rubio, wrote to Lam on Thursday calling for the bill to be withdrawn. They argued that it could lead to the rendition of businesspeople and activists to mainland China, worsening US-Hong Kong relations.
“If the extradition amendments are passed into law, we fear American and international firms and corporations may opt to move their headquarters from Hong Kong to another city in the region that does not put foreign citizens at risk of extradition to mainland China,” the lawmakers stated.
On Saturday the city’s pro-democracy camp also called Lam “naive” for dismissing views from the international community. “What makes Lam think she’s always right, and that she can refuse to listen to other countries?” Democratic Party vice-chairman Andrew Wan Siu-kin said.
Beijing however has thrown its weight behind Lam’s administration, with the chief executive having repeatedly shot down calls to shelve the legislation.
Lam said she appreciated that there could be concerns over the bill because of widespread “negative” reports, but pointed out that she had explained to the European diplomats that the amendments were in line with international standards.
She insisted that the consulates were merely stating their stance on the matter, and this left little room for any discussion.
Asked what she thought about the rare démarche from the EU officials, Lam said such a move was not entirely unheard of.
“When I was the chief secretary, some consuls general also met me to raise concerns over the topic of same-sex marriage,” Lam said. “So similar situations where parties state their stance have happened before.”
Lam also hinted that the government would give a detailed response in Legco to questions raised by lawmakers and the public over the extradition bill, and would be willing to make certain concessions that could allay concerns.
But other alternatives raised by the legal sector have been rejected.
Security minister John Lee Ka-chiu on Saturday said a counterproposal to raise the threshold for extraditable offences to those punishable by five-year jail terms instead of the proposed three, would complicate the process for both local and foreign prosecutors.
Lee and the city’s No 2 official Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung also addressed concerns about Beijing using the new law to retroactively target cases that happened decades ago.
The security chief said: “The mainland’s criminal law already stipulates the time limit for pressing charges after a crime … For offences punishable by a jail term of 10 years or more, the time limit [to press charges] is 15 years; for murder, the limit would be 20 years.”
Cheung also stressed that extradition would not apply to fugitives accused of political crimes or those involving race and religion. He called the concerns of EU officials and US lawmakers “unfounded and unwarranted”, saying he remained confident about persuading more businesses to back the bill.
“We have a very good case to articulate,” Cheung added.
Ray Wong Toi-yeung and Alan Li Tung-sing skipped bail in 2017 to avoid rioting and assault charges over the 2016 event that saw chaos and violence erupt in one of the city’s shopping hubs.
Lam revealed that the quasi-diplomatic move on Friday was approved by the Chinese foreign ministry’s office in Hong Kong, and a “strong response” was needed on the matter.
She said the protection given to the pair could imply a serious allegation – that Hong Kong was unable to provide fair trials for the accused.
“This could make society feel Hong Kong’s judicial independence is undermined, and that is completely inconsistent with our independent judiciary, which is well recognised internationally.”