The June 4th Incident and the 2019 Extradition Bill
The June 4th Incident of 1989 is regarded as one of the defining moments of recent Chinese history, where student-led demonstrations in Beijing calling for political and economic reform resulted in suppression by military units. Whilst the exact details of the incident remain unclear, what is clear is that the efforts made towards the betterment of their society have not been forgotten. The June 4th incident, and continued calls for justice for the demonstrators, have always been focal points of Hong Kong and CUHKCAS. Though June 4th is an issue of 30 years past, we should bear historical lessons in mind when reflecting on current political events.
It is heartening to see that Hong Kong people have always been actively engaged in political discussion towards political and social issues, especially those regarding the repercussions of Hong Kong and Chinese governmental actions on the integrity of One Country Two Systems. Whilst not exactly related to the June 4th incident, recent heated debates about the proposed Extradition Bill has sparked widespread concern. Will the arrival of the special date of June 4th heat up the debate even more?
Brief Summary of the Bill
Sparked by the recent case of Chan Tong-Kai who is suspected of murdering his pregnant girlfriend in Taiwan, Hong Kong lawmakers have actively called for an amendment bill to enhance special surrender arrangements with Macau, Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China. Hong Kong currently has surrender arrangements with countries including the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines. The lawmakers, in justification of the proposed arrangement, emphasise that the terms for the amendment bill are similar to arrangements with other countries. If anything, these arrangements are more stringent as it only includes 37 out of 46 criminal offences that are extraditable to other jurisdictions. Extraditions will also be assessed on a case-by-case basis and the final decision of whether or not to extradite a suspected criminal is made by the independent courts of Hong Kong.
Debates surrounding the Bill
Whether viewed as an opportunity or an excuse for passing the bill, the lawmakers argue that the Chan Tong-Kai case displayed a “loophole” in the special surrender arrangements of Hong Kong. They have suggested that the loophole comes from the fact that criminals are able to flee from one place to another to avoid punishment, and yet authorities are unable to do anything. For instance, the Hong Kong property tycoon Joseph Lau Luen-Hong has remained in Hong Kong ever since he was jailed in absentia for more than 5 years in 2014, on corruption charges in Macau. It has also been deemed to be unreasonable for Hong Kong to have arrangements with faraway countries such as the United Kingdom but not with directly neighbouring jurisdictions like Taiwan, Macau and the People’s Republic of China. Lawmakers in support of the proposal such as Starry Lee Wai-King and Regina Ip Lau Suk-Yee put forward that there is nothing to fear since safeguards are sufficient; for instance, the suspect can always raise an opposition to being extradited and we can place our trust in the courts to give a reasonable and fair verdict.
On the other hand, strong voices from the opposition argue that this arrangement would erode the protection of human rights for fugitives and Hong Kong citizens at large. It is argued that as the final decision on the extradition would fall upon the chief executive, the decision could involve political pressure by the mainland authorities. The opposition believes that this is fundamentally against the human rights protection granted under the Hong Kong Bill of Rights as there is no guarantee to a fair trial in Mainland China. Additionally, critics have raised concerns over the Mainland fabricating political offences into criminal offences and request extradition. An example would be in the case of the book store owner, Chan Wing-Kee, who was charged with “illegal operations” when it was highly suspected that the Mainland authorities arrested him for selling publications that are critical of the Chinese government. In short, the Bill seems to be marking an apparent departure from the “One Country Two Systems” model, blurring the distinction between the rule of law of the two jurisdictions and establishing closer links with the Chinese legal system.
The way forward
The opposition has suggested alternatives such as dealing with the Chan Tong-Kai case first on an ad-hoc basis (put forward by the Pan-Democrats); others, including the Bar Association and the Civil Party leader Alvin Yeung, suggest extending the jurisdiction of Hong Kong courts so that they could hear overseas murder cases involving Hong Kong suspects and/or victims. These suggestions, however, lack a broad perspective about similar cases that might occur in the future. The general idea about extending surrender arrangements with geographically neighbouring countries is not unattractive per se. However, in light of longstanding concerns of Hong Kong citizens towards “One Country, Two Systems” and the city’s relationship with the Mainland authorities, any debate surrounding the Extradition Bill and broader efforts pushing for a better future should proceed with caution to ensure that Hong Kong’s core values are securely protected. While it is undoubtedly heartening to see so many citizens willing to come forward to express their views about the recent Bill, it is also important that people do not blindly protest and oppose simply for the sake of opposing or remaining in the sting of past events. The stigma against Mainland China regarding how they treat criminals and the opposition is certainly understandable, but it would be more useful to gain a deeper understanding of the facts involved, in aid of a more informed, critical debate.
Images taken from CTV News and Time Magazine