Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam has said she will personally reach out to more foreign envoys in Hong Kong amid concern over the government’s controversial extradition bill, adding that further adjustments to the plan will be announced in the coming days. She also called on ex-colonial officials to provide proof that China was deliberately excluded from the city’s fugitive laws.

Lam told reporters on Tuesday that she will meet with at least three or four envoys to explain further, adding that she “regretted” that some diplomats had misunderstood the bill. This came after Lam met with representatives from European Union member states last Friday, which was sparked by a protest note sent by EU’s office in the city.

carrie lam
Carrie Lam. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

“Some of their worries are unfounded, for example worries that travellers transiting through Hong Kong would be affected,” Lam said. “[The law’s] lengthy process and its mechanism are not applicable to those cases.”

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Lam said that her previous role as chief secretary meant she had the “very close relationship” with foreign diplomats in town, though she said that, in retrospect, she should have spoken to them sooner about the bill.

The proposed legal amendments would allow the local courts and chief executive to handle case-by-case extradition requests from jurisdictions with no prior agreements – most notably China and Taiwan. Lawyers, journalists, foreign politicians and businesses have raised concerns over the risk of residents being extradited to the mainland as democrats have sought to hinder the bill’s progress at the legislature.

As for suggestions of new safeguards put forward by the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce on Monday, Lam said that the government will respond to all suggestions originating from civil society in one go.

John Lee Teresa Cheng
Secretary for Security John Lee and Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng. Photo: inmediahk.net.

If the government intends to amend the extradition bill, it would indicate as such on or before June 1, she added.

Responding to the pro-democracy camp’s challenge of a televised debate, Lam said that the appropriate venue for discussion should be the legislature. She said that her justice and security ministers will continue to answer lawmakers’ questions, including at a meeting of the Panel on Security this Friday.

Ex-officials challenged

Asked by HKFP about her administration’s claim that mainland China was not deliberately excluded from the 1997 version of Hong Kong’s fugitive laws, Lam said that the claim had its basis in the official records of both the legislature and the executive branch.

“What I told members of the Legislative Council and the Hong Kong community was based on what was recorded in the official documents, including official documents of the Legislative Council, or what we call the Hansard,” Lam said. “Those are very authoritative, official documents.”

Chris Patten.
Chris Patten. File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Convenor of the pro-democracy camp Claudia Mo previously called Lam a “liar,” while former governor Chris Patten – who oversaw the passage of the 1997 extradition law – said Lam’s position was “self-evidently untrue and absurd.” Both Patten and former chief secretary Anson Chan said that mainland China was intentionally left out of the law owing to concerns over differences in their legal systems.

Lam said on Tuesday she could only rely on official documents since she was a “middle-rank official” around 1996 and 1997, and had no firsthand involvement with the extradition law at the time.

“If [Patten and Chan] have insider information, perhaps it is for them to prove that their insider information is something that we should know. But up till now… we have not seen the documentation or substantiation,” she said.

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Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.