Britain’s Minister for Asia has said the UK is unequivocal in its concerns over Hong Kong’s controversial extradition agreement after Chief Executive Carrie Lam refused to back down on the proposal despite a “million-strong” public protest.

Mark Field said at a parliamentary debate on Monday that recent government concessions fell short of protecting the city’s autonomy and judicial independence: “There are widespread concerns that fear of extradition to China might have a chilling effect on Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms and result in increased self-censorship,” he said. “… Hong Kong must enjoy the full measure of its high degree of autonomy and rule of law as set out in the joint declaration and enshrined in the Basic Law.”

Mark Field. Photo: Screenshot.

Hong Kong’s government first proposed legal amendments in February to allow the city to handle case-by-case extradition requests from jurisdictions with no prior agreements, most notably China and Taiwan. The plan would enable the chief executive and local courts to handle extradition requests without legislative oversight. The bill could pass next Thursday, with democrats, lawyers, journalistsforeign politicians and businesses raising concerns over the risk of residents being tried in the mainland, where there are few human rights protections.

The plan was prompted by a murder case involving Hong Kong resident Chan Tong-kai who evaded justice after allegedly murdering his girlfriend in Taipei last year. Local police were unable to extradite him from Hong Kong as no prior agreement was in place.

Field noted that Taiwan’s cross-strait affairs council has said it would not seek to extradite the murder suspect even if the bill was passed: “There is a potential loophole, but it is interesting to note that it is not one that the Taiwanese authorities have asked to be sorted out,” he said.

The second reading of the bill will resume on Wednesday at the legislature, after the government fast-tracked its progress.

‘Grave concern’

Washington also echoed earlier statements by expressing “grave concern” over the proposed amendments and warned that it could threaten the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, which affords the city privileges in economic and trade matters relating to the US.

Photo: Todd Darling/HKFP.

Morgan Ortagus, the spokesperson for the Department of State, said on Monday that the bill could harm regional business interests and expose US citizens residing in or visiting Hong Kong to China’s capricious legal system.

“The United States shares the concern of many in Hong Kong that the lack of the procedural protections in the proposed amendments could undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy and negatively impact the territory’s long-standing protections of human rights, fundamental freedoms and democratic values as enshrined in the Basic Law and the Sino-British Joint Declaration,” she said. “The continued erosion of the One Country Two Systems framework puts at risk Hong Kong’s long-established special status in international affairs.”

The 1992 Hong Kong Policy Act expresses support for the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, which defines the city’s semi-autonomous nature. As such, the US regards Hong Kong as a separate entity from mainland China when it comes to international commerce providing the territory is “sufficiently autonomous” to justify special treatment.

A US congressional committee said in May that the extradition bill could violate key provisions of the Act, while a petition asking Washington to review its own existing extradition agreement with Hong Kong reached 100,000 signatures last Monday – the threshold required for a government response.

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Jennifer Creery

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.