China has voiced its ‘strong dissatisfaction’ with the United States today after Washington said it was gravely concerned about Hong Kong’s proposed extradition law.
The extradition bill, which has generated unusually broad opposition at home and abroad and plunged the city into political crisis, would allow suspects wanted in mainland China to be sent across the border for trial.
Opponents of the proposed extradition amendments say the changes would significantly compromise Hong Kong’s legal independence, long viewed as one of the main differences between the territory and mainland China.
Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Hong Kong matters are purely a Chinese internal affair and China demands the United States stop interfering in the city’s matters.
‘The Chinese side expresses strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition to the US’s irresponsible and erroneous remarks on Hong Kong’s affairs,’ Geng said today at a daily news briefing in Beijing.
US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus yesterday told a regular news briefing ‘the continued erosion of the “one country, two systems” framework puts at risk Hong Kong’s long-established special status in international affairs.’
Another State Department official said Ortagus was referring the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, which establishes the legal framework by which Washington accords Hong Kong special treatment distinct from the rest of China for purposes of US domestic law.
‘The United States expresses its grave concern about the Hong Kong government´s proposed amendments to its fugitive offenders ordinance,’ Ortagus said.
She said a peaceful demonstration on Sunday by people in Hong Kong ‘clearly shows the public’s opposition to the proposed amendments.’
Organisers said 1,030,000 people marched through the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday against the bill, which is due for a second round of debate tomorrow in the city’s 70-seat Legislative Council and a vote is expected this month. The legislature is controlled by a pro-Beijing majority.
‘The United States shares the concern of many in Hong Kong that the lack of procedural protection in the proposed amendments could undermine Hong Kong´s autonomy and negatively impact the territory’s longstanding protections of human rights, fundamental freedoms and democratic values,’ she said.
Ortagus said the United States was concerned that the amendments could damage Hong Kong’s business environment ‘and subject our citizens residing in or visiting Hong Kong to China’s capricious judicial system.’
‘Any amendments to the fugitive offenders ordinance should be pursued with great care and in full consultation with a broad range of local and international stakeholders who may be affected by the amendments,’ she said.
Despite the city’s biggest protest since its handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam vowed today to push ahead with the amendments.
Tomorrow the proposed law will have its second and third readings in the city’s parliament, which is dominated by Beijing loyalists, making its passing all but assured.
Protest groups have vowed to stage a fresh rally outside parliament and have urged people to join or to go on strike.
Business owners have taken to social media using a hashtag that translates as ‘#612strike’ to announce solidarity closures, allowing staff to join the protest.
By today morning, more than 100 businesses had declared plans to strike, ranging from coffee shops and restaurants to camera stores, toy shops, nail salons, yoga studios and even an adult entertainment store.
Britain handed Hong Kong back to China under a ‘one country, two systems’ formula with guarantees that its autonomy and freedoms, including an independent justice system, would be protected.
But many accuse China of extensive meddling in many sectors, denying democratic reforms and squeezing freedoms.
A 1992 US law recognises Hong Kong’s special status and allows the United States to engage with it as a non-sovereign entity distinct from China in matters of trade and economics. Areas of special treatment include visas, law enforcement, including extraditions, and investment.
A US congressional commission said last month that amending the extradition laws could provide grounds for Washington to re-examine elements of its relationship with Hong Kong outlined in the 1992 law.
In its 2019 report on the Hong Kong Policy Act released in March, the State Department assessed that Hong Kong maintained a sufficient – although diminished – degree of autonomy under the one country, two systems framework to justify continued special treatment.
Analysts say any move to end such special treatment could prove self-defeating for the United States which has benefited from the business-friendly conditions in the territory.
According to the State Department, 85,000 US citizens lived in Hong Kong in 2018 and more than 1,300 U.S. companies operate there, including nearly every major U.S. financial firm.
The territory is a major destination for U.S. legal and accounting services and in 2018 the largest US bilateral trade-in-goods surplus was with Hong Kong at US$31.1 billion.