The Hong Kong government has fired back at Britain’s decision to suspend their extradition agreement, accusing the former colonial ruler of double standards, gross interference in mainland China’s internal affairs and violating international law.
In Beijing, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also slammed London’s move, threatening Britain with a “forceful counter-attack”, cautioning it to refrain from indulging in “fantasies of continuing colonial influence”.
The strongly worded criticisms came after British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab formally announced on Monday the cut in ties he had signalled over the weekend, along with restrictions on arms sales and reviews of arrangements to send judges to Hong Kong and training programmes for the city’s police officers.
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Britain joined Five Eye alliance partners Canada and Australia in suggesting that human rights concerns prompted by the national security law Beijing imposed in Hong Kong on June 30 had opened the door for potential misuse of the extradition agreement.
In strongly opposing the suspension, a Hong Kong government spokesman on Tuesday said every country “has laws and the duty to safeguard its national security and sovereignty”, citing Britain’s own Treason Felony Act, Official Secrets Act, Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act, and Security Service Act.
“The UK’s unilateral suspension of the agreement on surrender of fugitive offenders with Hong Kong for political purposes, using China’s enactment of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the HKSAR as an excuse, is absolutely a political manipulation of double standards,” he said.
“It is also a gross interference in China’s internal affairs and a grave violation of international law and basic norms governing international relations, thereby knowingly allowing criminals to evade justice.”
He said Britain would be “answerable to the rule of law and the international community” because the country might become a legal loophole for fugitives wanted by Hong Kong.
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said: “China will make a forceful counter-attack to the UK’s wrong actions.
“China urges the UK to give up its fantasies of continuing colonial influence in Hong Kong and immediately correct its mistakes.”
Separately, a spokesman from the Chinese embassy in Britain urged London to “immediately stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs”.
“The UK will bear the consequences if it insists on going down the wrong road,” he said.
Ahead of Monday’s announcement, senior government advisers and officials had already suggested the suspension could turn Britain into a “haven” for fugitives involved in the anti-government protests of the past year.
Earlier, Britain announced it was also poised to grant wider residence rights to the city’s BN(O) passport holders, a process that could pave the way for citizenship. The details of that plan would be revealed before its parliamentary summer recess, Raab said on Monday.
Raab, however, stopped short of imposing sanctions on Chinese or Hong Kong officials involved in introducing the national security law, and noted the importance of continued engagement with Beijing in future.
“It’s very important that these targeted sanctions are done right, not quick,” Raab said. “If you do them too quickly, they will be legally challenged.”
Since July, two anti-government protesters wanted for assaulting police officers have been stopped at Hong Kong International Airport while attempting to board a London-bound flight.
One was accused of jumping bail for assaulting a police officer in a mall in September. The other allegedly stabbed a police officer on July 1 during a protest against the new law.
Between 1997, the year Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule, and 2018, the city sent eight fugitives to Britain, with three being transferred in the past decade, according to the Security Bureau.
Since the handover, Britain had sent over 10 suspects, but all of the transfers were before 2010, the government spokesman said.
After announcing the suspension would be “immediate and indefinite”, Raab said: “We would not consider reactivating those arrangements, unless, and until [there are] clear and robust safeguards which are able to prevent extradition from the UK being misused under the national security legislation.”
Hong Kong opposition activist Nathan Law Kwun-chung, who moved to Britain after quitting his political group Demosisto following the adoption of the national security law, said Monday’s move marked a tougher stance from the West against China.
He said in a Facebook post he had recently met shadow ministers to urge for Magnitsky Act-style sanctions on Hong Kong officials and police officers. The 2012 legislation gave the United States government the authority to sanction perceived human rights offenders.
A spokesman for the judiciary said Chief Justice Geoffery Ma Tao-li has repeatedly acknowledged the “immense contribution” by judges who come in to sit at the city’s Court of Final Appeal from other common law jurisdictions.
“The independence of the judiciary and the rule of law are cornerstones of the Hong Kong community, and they are guaranteed under the Basic Law,” said the spokesman.
London and Beijing also crossed swords on Monday before the extradition announcement. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would adopt a calibrated response to China, and was going “to be tough on some things, but also going to continue to engage”.
Foreign ministry spokesman Wang, meanwhile, accused London of serious interference in China’s domestic affairs. “We call on the UK not to go further down the wrong path to avoid further damage to Sino-UK relations,” Wang said. “China will take resolute countermeasures for moves that interfere in its domestic affairs.”
Canada and Australia suspended their extradition treaties with Hong Kong earlier this month, citing a fear of political persecution. The US was said to be preparing a similar move last week, while New Zealand, the other Five Eyes member, was reassessing the legal instrument as part of a “deliberate, considered review” of its relations with Hong Kong.
A spokesman from the Security Bureau said police would upgrade their equipment according to their operational needs.
He said the force would continue to work with law enforcement and academic bodies in mainland China and other countries to improve their operational standards and professionalism.
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