Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp has thrown down the gauntlet on the extradition bill row by inviting Chief Executive Carrie Lam to a televised debate – an offer which was quickly rejected.
Lawmaker James To, whom the democrats nominated as their representative, said that Lam’s administration should address the public, instead of just diplomats and the business community.
“No matter if it is a political point or a technical point, I think it is best to hear it from [Lam] directly,” To said. “If she thinks this is an important policy by the central government, she can say so.”
The bill, if passed, would allow Hong Kong to transfer fugitives to jurisdictions with which it had no prior rendition deal – most notably mainland China. The bill has sparked concern among lawyers, journalists, foreign politicians and businesses, along with governmental figures from the UK, US and the European Union.
To added that top Hong Kong officials had been meeting diplomats and industry representatives behind closed doors, but that was unsatisfactory because “nobody knows what was said.”
On Sunday, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung said some foreign business organisations welcomed the extradition bill after hearing the government’s explanation. However, he declined to say which specific groups or countries gave their support.
Camp convenor Claudia Mo urged Lam to “pluck up her courage” and face the public and opposition voices. She added that Lam was the suitable candidate, not her justice or security ministers, because only Lam was qualified to discuss the political dimensions of the bill.
Mo said the debate could be held at Lam’s convenience, but it was advisable for it to take place before the pro-democracy camp’s protest march on June 9. The protest organisers, the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), had previously said they intended to rally 300,000 Hongkongers to take to the streets.
However, the chief executive’s office responded on Monday afternoon that the “most suitable venue for pragmatic debate” over the extradition bill was still the legislature. Top officials will be present at the Legislative Council to answer lawmaker’s questions, the spokesperson added.
Lawmakers meet top envoys
Lawmakers also met with top diplomats in a closed-door lunch on Monday, which included envoys from the US, Russia, Germany and the European Union. The event was part of a series of regular meetings organised by the legislature’s secretariat, which is held once or twice a year.
After the lunch, Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok said that most diplomats did not understand why the Hong Kong government was trying to rush the bill through the legislature. Some diplomats from western nations said they were seeking instructions on whether to issue stronger statements on the bill, according to Kwok.
Democratic Party’s Lam Cheuk-ting also said that some country representatives said they were unwilling to let their citizens face trial in the mainland.
However, pro-Beijing DAB party leader Starry Lee said that some diplomats also supported the bill, but said it was not suitable for her to specify which countries. New People’s Party chairperson Regina Ip said that some diplomats expressed concern, but no one expressed outright opposition to the bill.
US Consul General Kurt Tong, German Consul General Dieter Lamlé and Head of the European Union Office to Hong Kong and Macao Ambassador Carmen Cano did not answer questions during their appearance at the legislature.
On Monday, the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce issued a statement calling for stronger safeguards for the extradition bill, as the current proposed safeguards “do not go far enough.”
“These safeguards are all the more important when the proposed regime is to be applied to all 170 jurisdictions where Hong Kong does not currently have a long term agreement, many of which have a lower level of human rights protection compared to Hong Kong,” said the chamber’s CEO Shirley Yuen.
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