HK extradition bill: lawmakers seeking solution as stand-off continues

15-May-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

Leaders from both sides of Hong Kong’s political divide are trying to find a solution to the stand-off over a contentious extradition bill that has brought chaos to the city’s legislature.

There was little progress on Tuesday morning, as pro-establishment and pro-democracy lawmakers continued to battle for control of the committee that is due to scrutinise the proposed amendment to the existing law.

For the second time in four days the opposing sides tried to hold separate meetings of the committee, and after adjourning one and failing to hold another, Abraham Razack, the presiding chair, said he would seek direction from the Legislative Council’s House Committee on how to proceed.

Razack, who has the backing of the pro-Beijing camp, lamented the lack of progress, while his opposite number, James To Kun-sun, who was leading the committee until he was turfed out by pro-establishment lawmakers, called for a meeting between both sides and the government to find a way to break the impasse.

“We have seen repeated commotions and disturbances, someone tried to snatch my microphone, and there was no way I could carry out an orderly meeting. To prevent further injury and disruption, I have called off the meeting,” Razack said, in reference to Saturday’s unprecedented clashes which saw one lawmaker hospitalised.

“I think legislators, regardless whether they are in the pro-establishment camp or pro-democracy camp, need to cool down and sit down and talk to each other.”

On Monday, Razack’s pro-establishment colleague, Paul Tse Wai-chun, proposed the creation of a bipartisan task force to resolve the issue, an offer that was quickly rebuffed by pan-democrats. Tse’s offer came on the back of a government threat to bypass the committee stage entirely and send the bill to Legco for a full vote.

It was not immediately clear if the house committee would directly dissolve the bills committee as had been threatened, and Martin Liao Cheung-Kong, the convenor of the pro-establishment bloc, said it was just one of the options.

However, a frustrated Razack appeared unimpressed by that.

“How many more meetings can we have?” he said. “How many more times can we disappoint our Hong Kong citizens, and let the world see us as a circus? We have to move forward.”

The bill, if passed, would allow the transfer of fugitives to jurisdictions which the city lacks an extradition deal with, including mainland China. The pan-democrats, legal experts and the business community fear the amendment to the existing law could see people prosecuted for political reasons.

The government claims it is keen to pass the bill so it can extradite a murder suspect to stand trial in Taiwan, although the self-ruled island complicated that stance by saying it would not request the extradition, fearing the new law could place its own citizens in jeopardy.

After the failed attempts to hold a meeting on Tuesday, To called for a tripartite gathering to resolve the issue.

“We have heard a lot of voices from society in recent days, asking if both camps could negotiate or reconcile,” he said.

“But the problem is that the government has been acting like it is threatening both camps with a knife, by insisting the controversy must be resolved in a bills committee.

“Under such circumstances, if the pro-government camp said they agreed to negotiate, the government might seek to table the bill directly at the general meeting by applying for permission from the House Committee. That would not be an ideal situation.”

To said the tripartite meeting would only need about a week, and would not affect the progress necessary to meet the government’s desire to have a solution before the murder suspect, Chan Tong-kai, is released having served time in Hong Kong after being found guilty on related money-laundering charges.

“I have shown my sincerity by proposing that I don’t have to be part of the negotiations and by closing today’s meeting early,” To said.

To said pan-democrats would not ask the government to retract the bill as a means to start negotiations, and would not set a deadline for the government to answer to the suggestion.

“I hope the chief executive and the Executive Council, as well as the Beijing officials in charge of Hong Kong and Macau affairs, can hear our offer,” To said.

Shortly after the chaos ended in Legco, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor began a shorter-than-usual press conference ahead of her weekly Exco meeting.

Lam said she would need more time to look into what happened, when asked if she would accept To’s call for a tripartite meeting, but reiterated that it was regrettable for lawmakers to have failed to start scrutinising the bill.

“It is unprecedented that six weeks have passed and the bills committee is still not established yet,” she said, and left without taking a second question.

Pan-democratic lawmakers planned to march to the Chief Executive’s Office at 12.45pm on Tuesday to request a meeting with Lam.

Legco president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen said all parties were responsible for the chaos, as he called on both sides to sit down and figure out a solution.

But he said he would not weigh in until it was obvious both sides could not do so, as he had to maintain his neutrality.

“It is important for the government to communicate with different political parties, but it’s up to the government how it would like to handle the conversation,” Leung said.


Category: Hong Kong

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