HK government releases long defence of contentious extradition bill against American Chamber of Commerce criticism

05-Jun-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

The Hong Kong government issued a lengthy statement late on Monday night dismissing a leading international business chamber’s concerns over a controversial extradition bill, days after the city’s No 2 official had apparently failed to allay its fears.

The 4,700-word response from the Chief Secretary’s Office, released at 10.10pm on Monday, attempted to address questions raised in a statement issued by the American Chamber of Commerce last Thursday, a day after it met Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung over the fugitive transfer law.

However, rather than broaching new arguments, Cheung’s office highlighted in its response that five local chambers of commerce had already showed support publicly for the bill.

The government is pushing for legislative amendments which would allow the transfer of fugitives in Hong Kong to jurisdictions with which the city has no extradition deal, including mainland China.

The contentious bill has faced strong opposition, with worries expressed that Beijing would use the new law to target political opponents, or that suspects would not receive a fair trial on the mainland. Business leaders fear the legislation could affect the city’s international reputation as a finance hub.

In a continuing attempt to defend the proposed amendments, Cheung’s office reiterated in his statement that the government was committed to safeguarding the rule of law and judicial independence as the city’s core values.

“The proposal would underline HKSAR’s commitment in enhancing Hong Kong’s status as a safe city and a responsible and active world partner in the fight against serious crime,” Cheung said through his office.

The office added: “Given the full range of procedural, judicial and human rights safeguards clearly provided in the proposed case-based approach, any suggestion that it would risk undermining ‘one country, two systems’ and Hong Kong’s economic competitiveness is unfounded.”

It also said that to address the community’s concerns about the rights of surrendered fugitive offenders during trials, the government had agreed that the requesting party could be required to include safeguards that were in line with general human rights protection such as presumption of innocence, open trial and legal representation.

The chamber said last Thursday that there were too many uncertainties in fundamental sections of the proposed legislation that had to be addressed and explained, and that Hong Kong was not ready to see the bill passed.

AmCham also sent Cheung eight questions related to the bill following Wednesday’s meeting, including ones pressing the government on how it planned to address concerns from foreign diplomats in Hong Kong, and how it would ensure that the requesting jurisdictions could guarantee a fair trial.

AmCham was the first international chamber in Hong Kong to raise concerns over the extradition plan. In its March statement, it warned that the arrangement would damage the city’s safe reputation for business.

The local business sector also expressed concerns over the bill in the beginning of the public discussion but it came round to supporting it after intense lobbying by the central government.

Five key local chambers of commerce, it added, including the Hong Kong general Chamber of Commerce, the Chinese general Chamber of Commerce, the Chinese Manufacturers’ Association of Hong Kong, the Federation of Hong Kong Industries and the Hong Kong Chinese Importers’ and Exporters’ Association had expressed support openly for the proposed amendments, along with a number of political parties in the Legislative Council and independent members.

“The government will continue to step up its efforts to reach out to [lawmakers] and all stakeholders, including the international business community, to explain the proposed amendments, listen to their opinions, clarify any misunderstanding and address any concerns,” the statement said.

Simon Shi Kai-biu, former president of the Hong Kong Small and Medium Enterprises Association, said his concerns remained even though he supported the bill.

“This bill was meant to target a small group of people who have committed crimes on the mainland and come to Hong Kong in recent years. There is no need for this bill to be applied to everyone in Hong Kong,” Shi said on a radio show on Tuesday morning.

He also hoped that the bill would not have a retroactive effect, covering acts done in the past.


Category: Hong Kong

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