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Adviser to Hong Kong leader calls for extradition bill delay | World news

Category: Political Protests,Politics

The pressure of Hong Kong public opinion against a proposed extradition law appears to be causing cracks in the unity of pro-Beijing leaders after two senior figures called for the legislation to be delayed or dropped.

Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, has staked her authority on pushing through the legislation, vowing not to back down during a week in which protests have convulsed the city. She has compared demonstrators who were pelted with rubber bullets and teargas to spoilt children.

But one of her senior advisers, an influential pro-Beijing politician, said on Friday the bill would have to be delayed, while a senior Chinese diplomat attempted to distance Beijing from the law.

Bernard Chan, a top aide to Lam, admitted he had underestimated the opposition of the business community to the new law. “I think it is impossible to discuss [it] under such confrontation. It would be very difficult,” Chan told RTHK radio. “At the very least we should not escalate the antagonism.”

Michael Tien, a pro-Beijing legislator, also called for a delay in a long Facebook post in which he said the “bloody conflict” of recent days had left him “heartbroken”.

“I hope the government will delay the discussions of the bill at the Legislative Council,” he said, adding that a delay should be seen as responsible politics rather than a sign of caving in to pressure.

Lam has not made any statements since Wednesday’s crackdown on protesters. Another opposition march has been called for Sunday.

The legislation was ostensibly proposed to allow the extradition to Taiwan of a Hong Kong man accused of murdering his girlfriend on the self-governing island. Lam says she has promised the woman’s family justice.

But the bill’s many critics say it is a dangerously open-ended piece of legislation that will destroy the foundations of Hong Kong society by allowing China to target political enemies and try them in China’s opaque courts, where the conviction rate is as high as 99%.

What is the proposed extradition law?

Hundreds of thousands of people have demonstrated in Hong Kong against legal changes that would make it easier to extradite people to China. Supporters say the amendments are key to ensuring the city does not become a criminal refuge, but critics worry Beijing will use the law to extradite political opponents and others to China. Under the amended law, those accused of offences punishable by seven years or more in prison could be extradited.

Who is supporting the change?

The government claims the push to change the law, which would also apply to Taiwan and Macau, stems from the killing last year of a Hong Kong woman while she was in Taiwan with her boyfriend. Authorities in Taiwan suspect the woman’s boyfriend, who remains in Hong Kong, but cannot try him because no extradition agreement is in place. 

Officials have promised to safeguard against abuses, pledging that no one at risk of political or religious persecution will be sent to the mainland. Suspects who could face the death penalty would not be extradited.

Hong Kong officials have repeatedly said the bill has not come from the central government in Beijing. However, Beijing has voiced its backing for the changes.

Why are Hong Kongers so angry?

Many Hong Kongers fear the proposed extradition law will be used by authorities to target political enemies. They worry the new legislation spells the end of the “one country, two systems” policy, eroding the civil rights enjoyed by Hong Kong residents since the handover of sovereignty from the UK to China in 1997.

Many attending the protests said they could not trust China as it had often used non-political crimes to target government critics, and said they also feared Hong Kong officials would not be able to reject Beijing’s requests. Legal professionals have also expressed concern over the rights of those sent across the border to be tried. The conviction rate in Chinese courts is as high as 99%. Arbitrary detentions, torture and denial of legal representation of one’s choosing are also common.

Lily Kuo in Beijing and Verna Yu in Hong Kong

The end of a judicial “firewall” around the city would put businesspeople as well as dissidents at risk, and the plan has caused widespread unease inside Hong Kong. There have even been rare strikes to support protesters in the street.

Taiwan has expressed worries that the law undermines its own sovereignty and has pledged not to use it. That effectively removes Lam’s main justification for passing the legislation, which critics say was always really aimed at satisfying Beijing.

In a sign that Chinese authorities may now also be concerned about the growth of public opposition in Hong Kong, China’s ambassador to the UK attempted to distance his government from the law.

He said in an interview that the bill had not been introduced at China’s request, although he stopped short of calling on Lam to drop the legislation.

“[The] Beijing central government gave no instruction, no order about making [the] amendment,” Liu Xiaoming told the BBC.. “This amendment was initiated by the Hong Kong government, it was prompted by a murder case in Taiwan.”

A group claimed to be organising grassroots support for the extradition law abruptly cancelled plans for a media briefing and march on Sunday, RTHK reported.

Safeguard HK claims it has more than 900,000 signatures on a petition backing the law, but said it would no longer organise a march “to avoid possible conflicts”. Critics say the number of signatures on the petition has been artificially boosted.

Not all support for the legislation has evaporated. Regina Ip, a hardline politician and former security bureau chief, was among those insisting the government should press ahead.

Opposition protesters said it was far too early to claim victory. “I’m not sure [Chan and Tien] are concerned about the public demonstrations,” said a student who asked to be named only as Mandy. “They are just worried about their own interests and now they think those may be under threat.”

Hundreds of people joined a “mothers against extradition” demonstration near the city centre on Friday, a show of commitment as some of the bill’s backers waver.

“We still have hope,” Mandy said of efforts to halt the bill. “If we keep faith, it may still happen.”

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