US expresses grave concerns over Hong Kong extradition law

Demonstrators gather to protest against a government proposal that could allow extraditions to China, in Hong Kong on June 9, 2019.
Demonstrators gather to protest against a government proposal that could allow extraditions to China, in Hong Kong on June 9, 2019.PHOTO: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON - The United States is gravely concerned over proposed changes to a Hong Kong law that would allow individuals to be extradited to mainland China, said a State Department spokesman on Monday (June 10), a day after a massive protest in Hong Kong against the controversial amendments.

"The US 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 the Sino-British Joint Declaration," said spokesman Morgan Ortagus in a briefing.

The peaceful demonstration by hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers on Sunday also clearly showed the public's opposition to the proposed amendments, she said.

"We are also 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," added Ms Ortagus.

Hong Kong, a Chinese territory since 1997, operates under a "one country, two systems" principle that allows it a degree of autonomy from mainland China. Sunday's protests were fuelled by fears that the proposed changes could erode its autonomy and judicial independence.

Beijing continues to strongly back the Hong Kong government and firmly opposes any outside interference in the territory's legislative affairs, said foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang on Monday at a regular briefing.

Hours later, Ms Ortagus said that the US believed any amendments to the extradition law should be pursued with great care and after consultation with a broad range of local and international stakeholders who may be affected by the changes.

 
 
 
 

She noted that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had met last month with a delegation of pro-democracy leaders in Hong Kong to discuss their broad reservations about the extradition proposal.

"The continued erosion of the one country, two systems framework puts at risk Hong Kong's long-established special status in international affairs," she added.

The US has, in recent months, voiced concerns that the mainland Chinese government has increasingly interfered with Hong Kong's internal affairs in an erosion of the territory's autonomy.

In its 2019 Hong Kong Policy Act Report published in March, the State Department said that the Chinese mainland central government implemented or instigated a number of actions that appeared inconsistent with China's commitments to allow Hong Kong to exercise a high degree of autonomy.

"The tempo of mainland central government intervention in Hong Kong affairs - and actions by the Hong Kong government consistent with mainland direction - increased," said the report.

The Hong Kong government has vowed to press on with the proposed changes, and the Bill will be debated by the Legislative Council on Wednesday.