While protestors have succeeded in stopping the Hong Kong government from passing an amendment to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance that would allow criminals, or those who are classified as criminals under Chinese law, to be handed over to Beijing, the risk of the extradition bill being reintroduced and even passed by lawmakers sometime in the future remains dangerously high. If that were to happen, it would spell bad news for the freedoms enjoyed by Hongkongers and would change how the city is perceived by the outside world.
Since the extradition law would allow Beijing to judicially try people from Hong Kong on the mainland, those who are at most risk will be pro-democracy and human rights activists. The city has always acted as a refuge to such activists, who are constantly persecuted in the mainland by Chinese authorities. Between the 1950s and 1970s, China was gripped with famines and political uncertainty that saw many migrate to Hong Kong. And after the bloody Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, several pro-democracy student leaders escaped to the safety of the city where Beijing could not persecute them. If the extradition law is passed, Hong Kong will cease to be the “safe zone” for dissidents from China.
The city’s business prospects will also suffer greatly due to the bill since both foreign and domestic business owners will be at risk of being nabbed and sent to China. “Even though there is some reassurance in the business community that those white collar crimes have been excluded… that doesn’t necessarily mean that people are therefore free of risk… There are many other ways that someone can be extradited under the current bill for offences other than the offence that they are actually wanted (for),” Antony Dapiran, a lawyer from the city, said to the BBC.
Recently, eight Senators and two Congressional representatives from the U.S. indicated that they wanted to reintroduce a bill that will remove the special trading status America grants to Hong Kong. If the bill were to be passed, Hong Kong would end up losing millions of dollars that flow into the city every year and businesses would relocate to places like Singapore. Companies from mainland China would also find it difficult to export to the U.S. at lower tariff rates.
The lawmakers threatened to bring up the bill as a measure to remind the Hong Kong administration that any threat to the city’s democracy will end up with massive economic consequences. “The U.S. must send a strong message that we stand with those peacefully advocating for freedom and the rule of law and against Beijing’s growing interference in Hong Kong affairs,” Marco Rubio said in a statement (Forbes).
National anthem law
After the suspension of the extradition bill, lawmakers from Hong Kong are now very cautious of passing any more laws that might incite public protest. One such law is a bill that sought to criminalize mockery of the national anthem.
“If the secretary agrees to people’s advice — including mine — maybe he wouldn’t send it to the [legislature for its second reading] within this legislative year… The legislature needs some time to calm down… The legislature has a lot of livelihood and economic issues to handle. Maybe the political issues can be set aside for now. That’s my opinion,” Andrew Leung, Legislative Council President, said in a statement (Hong Kong Free Press).
The bill will now only be considered by lawmakers in October. If the bill is passed, any Hongkonger who willfully distorts the “March of the Volunteers” in an insulting manner will be punished by up to three years in prison and fined up to HK$50,000 (US$6,400).