Hong Kong’s government plans to discuss its controversial extradition bill starting Wednesday, but hundreds protested outside the Legislative Council’s building Tuesday night because they feel Hong Kong’s independence is in danger.
Samuel So, who is involved in the protest efforts and is a former resident of Hong Kong, said its citizens’ very identities are threatened.
“This is such a unique identity that we are fighting for,” So said.
Tuesday’s protest comes two days after hundreds of thousands of demonstrators gathered against the bill in one of Hong Kong’s biggest protests in recent history. People of all different backgrounds marched together peacefully until a smaller group clashed with the police outside the government headquarters.
The legislation has caused internal strife within the city, even prompting physical violence when lawmakers for and against the bill battled over access to the chamber. If passed, it would allow Hong to Kong to extradite suspected criminals to jurisdictions without a prior agreement: notably, mainland China.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam has claimed the amendments are necessary to close legal loopholes, while opponents worry it will allow China to undermine Hong Kong’s semi-autonomy and target political dissidents.
Here’s what may happen if the bill is approved, which the government hopes will happen by the end of the month.
It could threaten U.S.-Hong Kong relations.
The nation’s current relationship with Hong Kong is positive. Under the U.S.-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, the U.S. recognizes Hong Kong’s semi-autonomy and supports its democracy. The extradition bill, however, would make Hong Kong susceptible to the Chinese influence. And the U.S. is wary of China’s legal practices.
“In addition to further intruding into Hong Kong’s affairs, the proposed bill could create serious risks for U.S. national security and economic interests in Hong Kong,” the summary of a brief on the U.S.-China Security and Economic Review Commission reads.
Michael C. Davis, an expert with the Wilson Center specializing in international affairs and Asian studies, noted the U.S. may be concerned about high-tech property making its way from Hong Kong to China. But he doesn’t expect the U.S. to change its attitude toward Hong Kong.
“The US government cares about its expats, cares about a huge amount of business in Hong Kong,” Davis said. “The US has a vested interest in Hong Kong.”
It could discourage foreign visitors and business.
Business and human rights groups have spoken out on the potential damage the bill could do to the commerce community.
The American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong issued a letter saying the amendments would “reduce the appeal of Hong Kong to international companies considering Hong Kong as a base for regional operations.”
Davis echoed the Chamber’s concerns, saying there would be ways to come up with charges against business people in the city.
“There’s very serious danger that the business community would be subject to,” Davis said.
So also pointed out that international visitors to Hong Kong could also be extradited to mainland China under the bill.
“Stepping out of local Hong Kong people, even people from overseas, Hong Kong is an international hub and city, and everyone who’s international who has something bad to say about the Chinese government could get extradited as well,” So said.
It could significantly strengthen China’s influence on the city.
Hong Kong was given to China as a territory in 1997 after being a British colony for 99 years. It was promised its own legal and political institutions for the next 50 years. But in recent years, China has been increasingly interfering with the city. For example, Chinese officials have cracked down on pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong for apparent involvement in anti-China protests.
Proponents of the bill have cited its goals of protecting national security. Davis said Hongkongers are especially concerned because Chinese legislators could manipulate political opposition into a supposed threat to national security.
“The bill purports to see that people’s free speech and political rights will be protected, so they won’t be extradited for some political offense,” Davis said. “But it’s very easy to find ways to charge them, in particular under legislation that deals with threats to national security.”
Davis also said many different kinds of people will be affected if the bill passes, including media outlets, business people and universities. He predicted “a kind of chilling affect on the community at large.”
“There’s just a whole slew of ways of how these things can create a culture of intimidation in Hong Kong,” Davis said. “There’s a sense in the community that this is threatening. I lived for 30 years in Hong Kong, it goes into much more than just politics, it’s the identity of the community.”
So expressed his community’s desire for a separate identity.
“We really want a distinction with our identity … we want to call ourselves Hongkongers,” So said.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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