In an unprecedented move, the Hong Kong government will submit a controversial proposal to amend the city’s extradition law directly to the Legislative Council (LegCo) for a second reading and skip scrutiny by the legislative committee, said Hong Kong’s security chief.
“Regrettably, the bills committee has been set up for over five weeks, but it has not been able to function normally,” Secretary for Security John Lee told reporters on Monday. “The bills committee is ineffective at vetting the bill, and I don’t see any way out of this deadlock.”
At the same time, pressure is building in the United States for a review and potential repeal of the USA-Hong Kong Policy Act that could have a major impact on Hong Kong’s economic fortunes.
The government is determined to have the bill passed and could do so by June 12.
The move to bypass the committee has surprised many as such scrutiny is a traditional step for most draft laws before they are discussed and voted on by all Legco members.
This comes after two committees – one led by pro-democracy legislators and the other by pro-Beijing loyalists – tried to meet simultaneously to scrutinize the bill on May 11. They claimed the other to be illegitimate.
The political havoc started when the government proposed to amend the extradition law that would allow fugitives to be handed over to mainland China on a case-by-case basis.
The bill has met with strong opposition from pro-democracy legislators and the business sector. It also triggered a demonstration joined by tens of thousands of Hong Kongers last month. Another demonstration will be held next month.
Last week, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), said in a report that the amendments could violate key provisions of the U.S.-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992.
“The new arrangement would diminish Hong Kong’s reputation as a safe place for U.S. and international business operations, and could pose increased risks for US citizens and port calls in the territory,” the report read.
The Policy Act is the basis for the U.S. government approach to treat Hong Kong as a non-sovereign entity distinct from China for the purposes of U.S. domestic law. The approach is based on the principles of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration. In this case, Hong Kong is considered an independent economic entity.
Section 202 of the Policy Act states that the U.S. President can, by executive order, suspend the application of any part of the Hong Kong Policy Act by “[determining] that Hong Kong is not sufficiently autonomous to justify treatment.”
This follows the official statement released in March from another U.S. body, the American Chamber of Commerce of Hong Kong (AmCham).
AmCham said the mainland Chinese criminal process has deep flaws, citing “a lack of an independent judiciary, arbitrary detention, lack of fair public trial, lack of access to legal representation and poor prison conditions.”
Intriguingly, other international chambers in Hong Kong have remained silent on this issue.
AustCham and CanCham declined to comment, while Britcham was not reachable and EuroCham did not respond to the request as of press time.