This isn’t official yet, but from all of the reports we’re seeing in the British press, it’s very nearly a done deal. Amidst the increasingly tight crackdown Beijing has been conducting on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, the city’s long-time allies are looking at them in a different fashion. With that in mind, Great Britain’s Foreign Secretary is looking at an official policy change that would end their extradition treaty with Hong Kong. The reasons are simultaneously both obvious and complex, but we can suffice to say that the “new Hong Kong” isn’t the same society that we’ve been used to dealing with for the past half-century. And their internal changes in both foreign and domestic policy mean that western nations likely won’t be able to extend them the same courtesies we all did previously. (BBC)
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is expected to suspend the UK’s extradition treaty with Hong Kong later amid rising tensions between London and Beijing.
It follows the controversial national security law imposed in the Chinese territory, and the decision to ban Huawei from the UK’s 5G network.
The UK has offered residency rights to three million Hong Kongers.
China has accused the UK of meddling in its own internal affairs.
Beijing has insisted it is committed to upholding international law and has accused the UK and the US of seeking to de-stabilise Hong Kong.
The United Kingdom has had an extradition treaty with Hong Kong for more than thirty years. It’s very similar to the treaty that the United States signed with them in 1996. Many (though not all) allied or at least cordially friendly governments make such arrangements to mutually facilitate their law enforcement efforts. But having such a treaty in place involves a lot of trust, at least for western nations. You don’t want to agree to automatically turn people over to a government with grave human rights abuse issues, for example.
As long as Hong Kong was operating under the “one nation, two systems” agreement that China was supposed to uphold, this worked out well enough. Hong Kong’s internal system of courts and law enforcement probably wouldn’t get an A+ rating when stacked up against other democracies, but it appeared fairly functional for the most part. As such, sending one of their citizens back there to stand trial wasn’t too much of an issue.
Now, however, with the implementation of China’s new “national security” law, things have changed. Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, has pivoted even further towards being the token mouthpiece for Beijing than she used to be. The police in the city are toeing China’s line and increasingly using brute force to crack down on any suggestion of democratization or dissent. In short, Hong Kong is looking more and more like mainland China by the day, and any confidence the west had in citizens receiving any sort of just treatment from the courts there is evaporating.
The United Kingdom in particular finds itself in a bit of a sticky position when it comes to Hong Kong and extradition. They recently offered residency rights to as many as three million citizens of Hong Kong should they wish to flee the increasingly restrictive region. (How they plan to help that many people out of the city in a rush is a mystery.) Assuming at least some of Hong Kong’s residents take up the offer, they might have been forced to turn around and send them back under the current extradition treaty if China demanded it.
This is a notable development that the United States should be observing carefully. There isn’t the same sort of open-door policy between America and Hong Kong, but we’ve certainly welcomed plenty of their citizens in the past. The day may be coming when we too need to dump our extradition treaty with them, or at least significantly modify it. All of this is going to further anger the Chinese, but let’s face it. They’re angry about pretty much everything these days anyway.