Following the proposal of the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation in February of 2019, a series of protest swept through Hong Kong that continues to this day. The bill would have made it possible to detain and extradite people accused of criminal acts to countries that Hong Kong does not currently have extradition agreements with. The bill was proposed because the Hong Kong government wanted to close a loophole that was allowing a Hong Kong man that had killed his girlfriend in Taiwan (a place with no agreement) to go without trial. However the people of Hong Kong felt like the bill went too far and placed their autonomy at risk giving too much power to China. In this episode of Lessons from the Screen, we will be taking a look at the relationship between Hong Kong and China, the bill, and the protest raging on and spreading across the globe.
In 2018 a couple with residence in Hong Kong took a vacation to Taiwan where the boyfriend murdered his 4 or 5 month pregnant girlfriend. He strangled her, stuffed her body in a suitcase, and dumped it in a thicket of bushes. According to the man, they got into an argument about how to pack their luggage after she bought a pink suitcase, the argument got out of hand as she revealed that her ex was the father of the child she was pregnant with and showed him a video of her having sex with another man. That is when he hit her head against a wall and strangled her before putting her corpse into the pink suitcase and going to sleep. Her returned to Hong Kong and told everyone that they got into an argument and went their separate ways.
Surveillance footage showed him struggling with a suitcase and after a second round of questioning he came clean and told the authorities what happened and where the body was. Hong Kong couldn’t charge him with murder for a crime committed in Taiwan and because of the lack of an extradition agreement they couldn’t extradite him either. They did get him on money laundering charges for using her credit cards after her death but with good behavior and time served, he could be getting out in less than a year.
The Hong Kong government couldn’t make deals directly with Taiwan because the Chinese government doesn’t recognize Taiwan's sovereignty. So they crafted a piece of legislation that they hoped would solve the issue. That’s where things begin to get complicated. Because while it seems simple to just create legislation that would fix the issue, the issues between Hong Kong and China begin to get in the way.
Hong Kong is a coastal City of 7 million people on the southeast border of the Guangdong (formerly known as Canton) province in Southeast China which is on the northern coast of the South China Sea. The city had been apart of China since 200 BC when it was incorporated during the Qin Dynasty. That would soon change with the conclusion of the opium wars in 1842.
From the 1550s on Chinese trade with Europe was carried on started by the Portuguese. The Chinese government mandated that Chinese goods could only be purchased by foreign powers using silver bullion. British ships showed up in 1635 and sought to engage in trade without working through the traditional Chinese tributary system which limited their access. In the 1680s the Qing Dynasty relaxed some foreign restrictions as the government benefited from the flow of silver from foreign nations. In 1683 Taiwan came under the control of the Chinese government. In 1757 foreign trade in China was restricted to 1 province, the Canton Province, and a new standard known as the Canton System was formalized. Not only could foreign traders only trade in this province, but they could only trade with a certain group of Chinese merchants known as the Cohong, they were forbidden to learn Chinese languages, they were not allowed to enter any other areas of China and they were only allowed to live in 1 neighborhood. To top it all off, foreigners could only interact with low level officials and could not lobby the imperial court for any reason except official diplomatic missions. These laws were known as the Prevention of Barbarian Ordinances. But even with all these restrictions, Chinese goods were still highly sought after creating a major trade surplus for China in their trade relationship with European nations.
European Nations maintained a bit of economic stability by colonizing the Americas and finding cheap sources of silver. But trade with the Chinese was so one-sided and their restriction of only dealing with foreigners using silver bullion was so taxing that it began to create internal issues as silver was taken out of circulation domestically in European nations to be sent to China. The profit made by selling silk, tea, and porcelain imported from China was too great. China was also developing a dependence on European Silver. Because of colonial wars between Great Britain and Spain and the eventual independence of the Americas (The United States of America and Mexico were formed) European nations lost access to the cheap silver they had in the Americas causing bad blood to form between China and European nations who partly blamed the uncompromising Chinese for the economic woes their countries faced.
Following the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Britain occupied Java, an island in Indonesia with an opium trade already developed. The British understood that by trading opium to the Chinese they could reduce their trade deficit. In 1781 the British began limited sales of opium in China. A major shift was made towards the production of Poppies, the plants used to create opium, when Indian Cotton produced in Malwan was dealt a hard blow by American Cotton produced by the slaves in America and Egyptian cotton both powered by the Cotton Gin began flooding the global market with high quality cotton. The farmlands of Malwan switched from growing cotton to growing opium poppy.
As the opium flooding through China both through legal channels until they were shut down and then through illegal channels only, European nations used the silver they acquired from opium sales to purchase Chinese goods. American Merchants also got into the trade in the 19th century using opium grown in Turkey. This caused a restriction of foreign trade by the Chinese government as it sought to combat the growing influence and power of foreigners who had used opium and its profits to bribe officials and skirt the canton system restrictions. There was now a quarter in the province known as the foreign quarter. The Chinese government was also trying to control the growing opium epidemic spreading through their nation at a rapid rate.
The Development of modern economic principles and the industrial revolution in Britain in the early 1800s caused its own view of economics to begin to shift towards a free market. Something that it was more than willing to use its impressive naval force to spread. The government switching to the gold standard in 1821 also caused the government to mint standardized silver shillings which were not accepted by the Chinese. Tensions were already high because of the long standing trade deficit faced by Britain and their willingness to flood China with Opium to get around it, but these changes in economic models and philosophies cranked things up a notch.
By 1838 the British were selling 1400 tons of opium a year to China, that’s 2.8 million pounds. The Chinese government began sentencing drug traffickers to death. Special Imperial Commissioner Lin Zexu sent a letter to Queen Victoria questioning why she permitted the sale of a drug in China that was illegal in Britain and letting her know the severity of Chinese Laws, she did not get the letter. He then shut down all trade and movement in Canton trapping foreign merchants in the province before dispatching troops to search everything and destroy any opium they found. The British Trade Superintendent in China protested and ordered all opium ships to flee and prepare for battle but the Chinese troops were one step ahead. This caused the British Superintendent to order all opium be surrendered to the Chinese and promised the merchants that they would receive compensation for their losses from the British government. During April and May of 1839 British and American Dealers Surrendered over 20,000 chests and 200 sacks of opium which was all destroyed publicly on the beach.
In July of 1839 Military Action in the Opium war would be kicked off when a group of British Sailors got drunk and beat a Chinese man to death. Instead of turning the men over to Chinese authorities, the British Superintendent decided to have a trial at sea aboard a ship and invite Chinese authorities to sit in and comment. The men were found guilty and sentenced to hard labor in Britain, a sentence that would later be overturned but was more lenient than the death sentence the Chinese government would have imposed. The Chinese saw this as a violation of their national sovereignty and froze the sale of food to the British while sending warships to the area. The British were confined to their ships with the harbor being blocked and running out of supplies. They opened fire on the Chinese and setting off what would officially be known as the first Anglo-Chinese War or the First Opium War. The war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842.
Cool Story Bro, but what does all of that have to do with the Hong Kong Dispute currently happening. Well, with the signing of the Treaty in 1842, China officially acknowledged it’s defeat at the hands of the British and with it ceded control of the City of Hong Kong amongst other things. So from 1842 to 1941 Hong Kong was a British Colony in China. In 1941 Japan occupied Hong Kong during the Second World War and held it until 1945 when it was freed by a joint force of British and Chinese troops, but it was then returned to British rule. The Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed in 1984 and made it clear that on July 1st 1997 Hong Kong would be handed over to China and that the people of Hong Kong would be permitted to continue living in their own way of life for 50 years after the handover. This meant capitalism and a limited democracy would continue to exist even though the city was under a communist nation. This would become known as 1 country 2 systems principle. The people of Hong Kong have autonomy under this system in all regards except military and foreign affairs which both must go through China. This is why you have seen Hong Kong teams at various Olympic games. Residents of Hong Kong also speak Cantonese and English primarily while residents of China Speak Mandarin.
But that is only half the story, after all, the crime happened in Taiwan. As mentioned earlier, China does not respect Taiwan's Sovereignty claims. Taiwan exists as an island in East Asia with more than 23 million people living on it. It was ruled by Japan from 1895 -1945 at which point it was taken by China at the end of World War 2. Following a Chinese Civil War that ended in 1949 Taiwan was taken over by the losing side of the civil war who declared themselves to be establishing a government for all of China. Mainland China which is ruled by the People’s Republic of China which won the civil war has taken the position that there is only 1 China and they control all of her. As such, while Taiwan claims sovereignty as an independent nation, China does not recognize it as an independent state and because of the power and influence of China globally, most other countries are not willing to anger China by recognizing Taiwan, although 25 countries have done so.
So on the one side you have Hong Kong with its issues with China, but because of the arrangement in the 1 nation 2 systems principle it cannot interact with foreign bodies without China. Then you have Taiwan, who sees itself as an independent state, but is seen by China as a part of China. Then you have to add in that in 1987 the Territorial Principle was put forth which gave jurisdiction of criminal prosecutions to the place that the offense was committed. Then you have the issues of autonomy, Hong Kong Citizens are subject to Hong Kong Jurisdiction in legal matters however crimes committed on foreign soil usually fall within the jurisdiction of the owner of that soil. Taiwan has its own legal system and rightful jurisdiction in the case of the crime that kicked all this off, but China has to be willing to work with Taiwan, which they won’t do because that might require or give the appearance of acknowledging Taiwan's sovereignty. Taiwan would also have to be willing to work with China which they won’t do because China won’t recognize their sovereignty.
So we come to the 2019 Hong Kong Extradition Bill. The bill was proposed according to the Hong Kong government to close the loophole that would prevent the murderer talked about earlier from being tried because of a lack of Jurisdiction and an extradition agreement. The underlying message of this according to government officials was to prevent Hong Kong from becoming a crime haven. According to the Hong Kong government, the ordinance would address the following:
In the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance (FOO)
(1) To differentiate case-based surrender arrangements (to be defined as "special surrender arrangements" in the proposal) from general long-term surrender arrangements;
(2) To stipulate that special surrender arrangements will be applicable to Hong Kong and any place outside Hong Kong, and they will only be considered if there are no applicable long-term surrender arrangements;
(3) To specify that special surrender arrangements will cover 37 of the 46 items of offences based on their existing description in Schedule 1 of the FOO, and the offences are punishable with imprisonment for more than three years and triable on indictment in Hong Kong. A total of nine items of offences will not be dealt with under the special surrender arrangements;
(4) To specify that the procedures in the FOO will apply in relation to special surrender arrangements (except that an alternative mechanism for activating the surrender procedures by a certificate issued by the Chief Executive is provided), which may be subject to further limitations on the circumstances in which the person may be surrendered as specified in the arrangements;
(5) To provide that a certificate issued by or under the authority of the Chief Executive is conclusive evidence of there being special surrender arrangements, such that the certificate will serve as a basis to activate the surrender procedures. Such activation does not mean that the fugitive will definitely be surrendered as the request must go through all statutory procedures, including the issuance of an authority to proceed by the Chief Executive, the committal hearing by the court and the eventual making of the surrender order by the Chief Executive. Other procedural safeguards, such as application for habeas corpus, application for discharge in case of delay, and judicial review of the Chief Executive's decision, as provided under the FOO will remain unchanged;
In the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Ordinance (MLAO)
(1) To lift the geographical restriction on the scope of application of the Ordinance; and
(2) To provide that case-based co-operation premised on the undertaking of reciprocity will be superseded by the long-term MLA arrangements once the latter have been made and become effective. During the period of public consultation, the SB received around 4,500 written submissions, of which around two-thirds were in support of the proposal.
According to opponents of the legislation, the ordinance if passed would open Hong Kong residents up to the Chinese Justice system. A concern already strong in Hong Kong as they believe with evidence that the Chinese Secret Police have been coming into the city and removing political threats strengthening attempts by the Chinese government to gain influence in Hong Kong. Since the 1 nation 2 system principle was put in place, there have been a number of violations of the system by China as it attempts to assert its culture on the city and bring the region into unity.
Originally all crimes were covered but because of the protest of the business community, 9 economic crimes were made exempt and the penalty trigger increased from 1 year triggering extradition to 3 years. This along with pressure from China was enough to ease the business community who have been using Hong Kong as a safe haven because of its laws and systems being independent and similar to that of western nations. Business contracts between foreign powers and China frequently have a Hong Kong provision that requires disputes be settled under Hong Kong Law.
Other criticisms were launched at the Chief Executive of Hong Kong Carrie Lam (who is the first woman to hold that office). The proposed legislation would give her office the power to determine who gets extradited and who doesn’t with little involvement from the Hong Kong Courts. This coupled with the fact that she was supported by China during the election has many believing that she is actually working for Chinese interest instead of Hong Kong’s. Scholars and officials from before the handover also state that the lack of extradition agreements is not a loophole but an intentional feature of the 1 nation 2 systems policy. It is a firewall to keep the judicial systems separate, one that was understood by all sides, as such they see this as another attempt by China to gain control over Hong Kong before the 2047 date set in the Sino-British Joint Declaration. Most of the critics advocate for direct deals with Taiwan without the involvement of Mainland China.
The people of Hong Kong are extremely sensitive to encroachment by China and defend their way of life fiercely. There has been a protest on July 1st every year since the handover demanding democracy, universal suffrage, and human rights. In 2003 when Basic Law Article 23 was proposed the protest drew 500,000 people as the Hong Kong government attempted to pass a law that would have made it illegal to criticize China, work against China, or work with foreign interest. The protest currently happening in Hong Kong are the largest since 2003.
The FOO Bill was first proposed in February 2019 and protest began in March 2019. The original intent of the protest was simply to have the bill withdrawn. The government took a hard stance in the early days attempting to force the bill through and criticizing the protesters. This served to draw media attention which was also drummed up by the fact that Taiwan rejected the plan because it included China in the agreement and Taiwan and China have a history (mentioned earlier). The media attention made the protesters more powerful and impossible to ignore. More protests were scheduled for June with a sit-in of the legislative complex 3 days before the second reading of the bill in legislative session. This resulted in clashes between police and protesters who retreated.
On June 12th, the day of the second reading protesters called for a strike which was answered by over 100 employers in the city, and they attempted to charge the legislative council building. But they were literally beaten back by the police using batons, rubber bullets, bean bag rounds, and tear gas. The police were later criticized heavily for their use of unnecessary violence, not wearing identifying numbers, assaulting journalist, trapping people inside of a building with tear gas, and arresting hospitalized persons. Following this, protesters began to add to their list of demands, they not only wanted the bill retracted, but they wanted the characterization of them as rioters to be recanted, they wanted arrested protesters released and exonerated, they wanted a commission to look into police conduct, and they wanted Carrie Lam the Chief Executive to resign and the implementation of a true democracy.
On June 15th Carrie Lam stated that the bill was suspended which wasn’t enough, the protesters wanted a full withdrawal. In response to this a 35 year old man committed suicide and protest were held the following day with more 2 million people claimed to have turned out. The largest protest in Hong Kong History. Carrie Lam then apologized to Hong Kong Citizens but refused to resign or to withdraw the bill.
On July 1st the protest that would usually happen for the anniversary of the handover happened with an extra layer of intensity. The protesters stormed the legislative council and destroyed pictures and furniture while also painting graffiti on the walls. Later Lam said the extradition bill was dead and that the government had failed in their work on the bill. But because of her non-clear statements many did not believe she was sincere and she still refused to official withdraw the bill. At this point protest were occurring in other places outside of the island of Hong Kong. To add to the spreading drama a ghost town was created in Yuen Long for a period after suspected Triad members appeared in the city and began attacking everyone in sight.
In August the protest turned up another notch. Another strike was called which was answered by more than 350,000 people. Sit-ins at the airport caused it to be closed for 2 days and caused more violent clashes between protesters and police. Protesters threw bricks and fire bombs at police during some skirmishes. The police also fired a live round warning shot after being chased and attacked by protesters with makeshift weapons. The protest spread through every sector of Hong Kong with students protesting by forgoing the first two days of class and being supported by teachers and administrators.
Finally on September 4 Carrie Lam announced that she would formally withdraw the bill and that she would comply with some of the demands of the protest by establishing bodies to look into police issues. However, the protesters have announced that a partial concession would not be accepted. So we look for the protest to continue.
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