In-Depth: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) introduced this bill to amend the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992 to require a report on how the People's Republic of China (RPC) exploits Hong Kong to circumvent U.S. laws. This bill was developed specifically in response to the PRC forcing a controversial extradition bill through the Hong Kong government that’d subject Hong Kong residents and foreign nations to extradition to China:
"The People's Republic of China has long exploited Hong Kong's special legal treatment under U.S. law. It uses Hong Kong's open economy to launder money, evade tariffs, break sanctions, and acquire sensitive intellectual property. The Chinese Communist Party of China encroaches on Hong Kong's autonomy, including by interfering in elections and pushing controversial legislation that endangers foreign nationals residing in Hong Kong. In the past week, we've seen the people of Hong Kong protesting and marching in the streets to fight back against the Communist Party's tyranny. If the Hong Kong government passes this dangerous extradition bill at the behest of Xi Jinping, the U.S. should reevaluate our policy toward Hong Kong. I am proud to introduce legislation with Senator Markey that would begin that process."
Original cosponsor Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) adds that Hong Kongers’ rights are under threat when the Chinese government can extradite them to the Chinese mainland:
"Hong Kongers should be able to determine their future, but the implications of the extradition bill currently under consideration raise fears that their rights will be undermined. With Chinese influence and coercion on the rise in Hong Kong, we should be supporting the rights and freedoms of people there and around the world to govern themselves. I thank Senator Cruz for his partnership on legislation that will shine some light on growing Chinese government influence in Hong Kong.”
After the extradition bill passed and protests subsequently broke out in Hong Kong, Sens. Markey and Cruz introduced this bill. In response to the protests and the extradition bill’s passage, Sen. Cruz tweeted, “The people of Hong Kong are fighting against the tyranny of the Chinese Communist Party. For decades American policy has been built on assumption HK maintains autonomy from China & if the CCP forces this extradition law through America must reevaluate that policy. We can no longer allow the [Communist] Party to exploit HK's special treatment.”
State Dept. Spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said that the extradition bill hurts regional business interests and exposes U.S. citizens residing in or visiting Hong Kong to the capricious Chinese legal system:
“The United States shares the concern of many in Hong Kong that the lack of 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. The continued erosion of the One Country Two Systems framework puts at risk Hong Kong’s long-established special status in international affairs.”
This bill has one cosponsor, Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA).
Of Note: Although Hong Kong is part of China, it has a separate legal system under a concept known as “one country, two systems.” The Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019 was proposed by the Hong Kong government in February 2019 to allow the transfer of fugitives to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong doesn’t have an extradition deal (including the Chinese mainland, Taiwan and Macau). Officials said the bill had to be passed as soon as possible so a murder suspect, Chan Tong-kai, 20, who is wanted for his girlfriend’s murder, can be sent to Taiwan.
Normally, a legislative bill in Hong Kong needs to go through three separate readings to become law. After being tabled, it receives a preliminary debate in its second reading and is then adjourned to be referred to a bills committee for detailed examination. At the bills committee stage, officials and lawmakers vet proposed legislation on a clause-by-clause basis and make amendments to the original bill. The bill is then referred to the full council to resume the second reading and be debated. Finally, after a third reading, the bill is put to a vote. In order to become law, a bill needs a simple majority (35 votes).
Pursuant to this process, the Hong Kong government announced its intention to amend the extradition law in mid-February 2019 and formally introduced the bill in April. However, the extradition bill has been strenuously opposed by the pro-democracy camp, which successfully stalled the first two meetings on it and prevented the election of a committee chairman. In response to the pro-democracy camp’s maneuverings, the pro-government camp removed pan-democratic lawmaker James To Kun-sun from his position of presiding members and replaced him with pro-establishment lawmaker Abraham Razack. The legality of this move was challenged by pan-democrats and Andrew Wong Wang-fat, an expert on parliamentary rule and procedures. Their objections were based on the Legco secretariat’s involvement, as the Legco secretariat is supposed to remain neutral in legislative matters. Attempts to hold meetings on this issue in early May descended into chaos.
Both domestic and international critics expressed concerns that the mainland could exploit it to enable politically-motivated persecution and unfair trials on the mainland. Hong Kongers took to the streets to protest the bill in huge numbers, and international organizations weighed in against it. In a review of the bill before its passage, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a Congressional agency, said in a May 2019 report that it would increase Hong Kong’s “susceptibility to Beijing’s political coercion and further erode Hong Kong’s autonomy.” Michael DeGolyer, an academic at the Baptist University of Hong Kong who has tracked Hong Kong’s transition to mainland Chinese rule, adds that Hong Kongers are particularly sensitive to issues involving judicial independence, which is seen as guaranteeing a measure of protection from the mainland government. In an email to Al Jazeera, he wrote:
“[The extradition] bill not only 'erodes' those protections; it places protection of those rights it only belatedly recognised as critically important to most Hong Kongers squarely within the hands of unelected bureaucrats who have so far manifested a rather poor record of being able or willing to resist pressure from Beijing.”
In response to those criticisms, Beijing’s foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, argues that no country, organization or person has the right to interfere with China’s domestic affairs. He says, “China strongly opposes the irresponsible and wrong remarks made by certain individuals in the U.S.”
The Hong Kong government originally said it wouldn’t give in to protesters’ demands. Officials argued that apart from dealing with the murder Chan murder case, the extradition bill was also needed to plug the legal loophole allowing suspects to avoid extradition by hiding in Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor (who was handpicked by Beijing to rule Hong Kong), originally said, “If radical and violent means can achieve their aims, these scenes would only get worse, and definitely bring harm to Hong Kong. So I hope that order can be restored in the society as soon as possible, and I don’t want any more people to be injured in the riot.”
However, the Hong Kong government eventually indefinitely tabled the extradition bill. On June 17, 2019, Lam offered a “sincere and solemn” apology for allowing the proposal to progress as far as it had. However, she resisted calls for her resignation, the withdrawal of the extradition law and an apology for police brutality and describing one protest as a riot. Instead, she said she wouldn’t resign, insisted that the extradition bill be left on the books until it expires in just over a year and said only that protestors who hadn’t used violence needn’t worry about rioting charges. However, Lam also added that it’s “very unlikely” the government will pass the extradition bill before the current legislative session expires next year, and that the government would “accept the reality” should that come to pass.
In response to Lam’s speech, protest organizers expressed disappointment at her refusal to resign and announced plans to meet to decide on further action. Joshua Wong, a prominent pro-democracy activist who served one month of a two month sentence related to protests in 2014 and was released on June 17, said, “When one million people marched at least we got a suspension, when two million people marched all we got is a sorry. How many people does she want to drive to the streets?" Abi, a 20-year-old protester interviewed by the BBC, called Lam’s apology “insincere” and said, “I still maintain that [Lam] should stand down. If she's asking for a second chance she should at least show that she's deserving of it, by withdrawing the bill amendments completely. We have no trust in her."
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Nikada)