Hong Kong Extradition Bill Could Put Americans at Risk, Says US Commission

May 8, 2019 Updated: May 8, 2019

Proposed changes to Hong Kong’s extradition laws, which would allow people to be transferred to mainland China for criminal prosecution, could produce serious risks to U.S. national security and economist interests in the city, a U.S. commission said.

First announced in February, the proposed amendments would allow any jurisdiction, including China, to seek the extradition of individuals, as approved by the city’s chief executive, on a case-by-case basis. Currently, Hong Kong maintains individual extradition treaties with countries including the United States.

“The extradition bill could pose significant risks to U.S. national security and economic interests in the territory,” the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission stated in a report released May 7.

The commission, which reports to Congress on the security implications of trade with China, said the new law could jeopardize the safety of U.S. Navy personnel who may be detained or arrested during routine port calls in the city.

“The United States could consider alternative ports for rest and replenishment in the region,” the report stated.

The commission added that the changes could heighten the risks for more than 80,000 U.S. citizens and 1,300 U.S. businesses currently in Hong Kong.

“One major concern is that the bill could allow Beijing to pressure the Hong Kong government to extradite U.S. citizens under false pretenses,” the report stated.

“The recent spike in arbitrary detentions of U.S., Canadian, and other foreign citizens in China on questionable charges with a lack of access to a fair trial and due process highlight the risk the new law could pose to U.S. citizens.”

The planned changes, the commission said, could extend the Chinese regime’s “coercive reach” into the territory and further erode Hong Kong’s autonomy.

“Such changes would undermine the strong legal protections guaranteed in Hong Kong and leave the territory exposed to Beijing’s weak legal system and politically motivated charges,” the report stated.

These concerns echo widespread criticism of the bill by business groups, rights activists, and Hong Kong residents, who say that, given the Chinese regime’s disregard for the rule of law, the amendments could allow Beijing to charge and extradite its critics with impunity.

Recently, more than 100,000 people took to the streets of Hong Kong to protest the amendments—one of the city’s largest protests in years.

Despite broad opposition, the bill is expected to pass Hong Kong’s Legislative Council in the latter half of the year, given its pro-Beijing majority.

The proposed changes are the latest in a long line of developments that critics say have eroded the city’s independence and legal protections since Hong Kong reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997. The UK–China handover agreement had included an express guarantee that the city would enjoy a high degree of autonomy and freedoms not allowed in mainland China—a policy known as “one country, two systems.”

Recent incidents include refusing to renew a visa for British national and Financial Times editor Victor Mallet, democracy activists being jailed, and opposition lawmakers being disqualified from public office.

Risks to US Interests

The commission highlighted that the law could breach several provisions of the U.S.-Hong Kong Policy Act, which allows the United States to deal with Hong Kong as a separate entity distinct from China in matters of economics and trade.

Those areas of special treatment for Hong Kong include visas, law enforcement including extraditions, and investment.

Under the act, the U.S. president may, by executive order, suspend this arrangement if the president deems that Hong Kong is “not sufficiently autonomous” to justify special treatment.

The U.S. extradition treaty with Hong Kong may need to be re-examined, the report said, due to questions about whether the city’s government can carry out its obligations under the treaty—given that the proposed amendments could override protections under the treaty.

The U.S. State Department raised concerns in April about the proposed laws, saying in a statement that “continued erosion of the ‘one country, two systems’ framework puts at risk Hong Kong’s long-established special status in international affairs.”

At a news conference on May 7, Hong Kong’s justice and security secretaries skirted the question of whether the city could realistically reject an extradition request from China.

They also sidestepped questions on China’s legal system and whether activists might be at risk of being extradited on national security grounds.

Reuters contributed to this report. 

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