What is the issue?

  • Protest erupted after the controversial extradition law push forwarded on Hong Kong. Lakhs of protesters marched the streets of Hong Kong in the biggest protest since the Umbrella Revolution of September-December 2014.

BACKGROUND

  • Hong Kong used to be a British colony, but since the handover of 1997 it is a city of China.
  • One Country, Two Systems, the Chinese Communist Government ensured Hong Kong will retain its own currency, legal and parliamentary systems, people’s existing rights and freedoms for fifty years.
  • However, critical voices have emerged in Hong Kong to protest against actions by the government which have been seen as prioritizing the interests of the Chinese Communist Government
  • For instance through the spending of public funds for pro-China white elephant projects.
  • The Umbrella Movement started as a spontaneous social movement for democratic development in Hong Kong in September 2014.
  • It was a large movement in terms of duration, location and reach and also very much empowered by digital media.
  • Its name arose from the use of umbrellas as a tool for passive resistance to the Hong Kong Police during a 79-day occupation of the city. The umbrellas were used for defence against police pepper spray.
  • The present The extradition bill, which would cover Hong Kong’s 7 million residents as well as foreign and Chinese nationals in the city, was seen by many as a threat to the rule of law in the former British colony.
  • Due to the public uproar, the bill postponed indefinitely.

Political status of Hong Kong

  • Hong Kong, at roughly 1,100 sq km, is smaller in size than Delhi, and is home to an estimated 7.4 million people.
  • It was a British colony from 1841 until sovereignty was returned to China in 1997.
  • Hong Kong is now part of China under the “one country, two systems” principle.
  • Under this, the city of Hong Kong remains a semi-autonomous region with the Basic Law (the city’s mini-constitution) for 50 years.
  • This ensures that Hong Kong keeps its own judicial independence, its own legislature and economic system.
  • It has its own laws and courts, and allows its residents a range of civil liberties.
  • The Umbrella Revolution/Umbrella Movement/Occupy Movement refers to a series of sit-in street protests in Hong Kong in Sep-Dec 2014.
  • It was triggered over a decision regarding proposed reforms to the Hong Kong electoral system, and is largely a movement for democracy and autonomy.

Extradition agreement

  • Extradition agreement refers to arrangement in regards to surrender of person(s) accused of a crime.
  • Hong Kong has entered into extradition agreements with 20 countries, including the UK and the US.
  • When the extradition agreements for Hong Kong was finalised, Taiwan and mainland China were excluded.
  • This was because of the different criminal justice systems that existed in those regions.
  • China has steadily tried to deepen its influence in this regard, but an extradition agreement with it has never been reached.
  • Image result for hong kong taiwan macau map
  • The Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019 was proposed by Hong Kong’s government in February, 2019.
  • Carrie Lam, who became Chief Executive of Hong Kong in 2017 as the candidate favoured by Beijing, is pushing for the amendments.
  • The Bill will allow the local government to extradite a suspect to places with which the city has no formal extradition accord.
  • In effect, this would allow suspects accused of crimes such as murder and rape to be extradited to mainland China to face trial.
  • Once the law is changed, Hong Kong will also handover to China individuals accused of crimes in Taiwan and Macau.
  • Macau, like Hong Kong, is a Chinese special administrative region with significant autonomy.
  • Taiwan is seen as a sovereign state but its sovereignty is highly contended, and it has a tense relationship with China.
  • The government says that the proposed amendments would plug loopholes in the criminal justice system.
  • The current shortfalls allow criminals evade trial elsewhere by taking refuge in Hong Kong and allow the city to be used by criminals.
  • The government has assured that, under the bill, the courts in Hong Kong would make the final decision on extradition.
  • Courts can specify that only certain categories of suspects would be liable.
  • They can also lay down that individuals accused of political and religious offences would not be extradited.

Concerns of the protesters

  • Despite government assurances, there is a firm concern that China would use the changed law to target political opponents in Hong Kong.
  • Protestors highlight China’s flawed justice system and thus there is a fear that extradited suspects would likely face torture.
  • Also, there is a concern that the provision would deal another blow to Hong Kong’s already declining autonomy.
  • It would further erode the freedoms people enjoy under the Basic Law.
  • There are already instances of disqualifying elected lawmakers, banning activists from running for office, prohibiting political parties and expelling foreign journalists.
  • The recent march included people from the business community, lawyers, students, members of religious groups, and even housewives.
  • The issue thus brings to light the tensions between the Hong Kong’s Beijing-appointed elite rule, and the expectations of civil society and pro-democracy movement.
  • In all, the Bill could affect Hong Kong’s reputation as an international finance centre and also its judicial system.

International reaction on the issue

  • The Human Rights Watch and the International Chamber of Commerce have warned against changing the law.
  • A body of the US Congress has said that the amendment would make Hong Kong vulnerable to Chinese “political coercion”.
  • The UK and Canada as well have expressed concern over the potential impact on their citizens in Hong Kong.
  • The EU has also sent a diplomatic note in this regard.
  • But China has criticised the alleged “politicisation” of the Hong Kong proposal, and the “interference” in China’s internal affairs.
  • Moving forward, Beijing should reach out to the people of Hong Kong, alleviate their fears and concerns, and assure them of their guaranteed rights.

Way forward

  • The government has said that the proposed amendments would “plug loopholes” that allow the city to be used by criminals.
  • It has assured that courts in Hong Kong would make the final decision on extradition, that only certain categories of suspects would be liable, and that individuals accused of political and religious offences would not be extradited.
  • Many accuse Beijing of extensive meddling since then, including obstruction of democratic reforms, interference with elections and of being behind the disappearance of five Hong Kong-based booksellers, starting in 2015, who specialised in works critical of Chinese leaders.

 

# Practice Question

  1. Movements for the protection of the democratic values are invariable. Do you think that the present democratic movement in Hon Kong has got its objectives fulfilled? (200 words)
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