Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has announced today her intention to formally withdraw the controversial extradition bill that sparked three months of unrest in the city.
The extradition bill was first announced in April and would have introduced a case-by-case model allowing for the extradition of suspects to any jurisdiction with which Hong Kong lacks a formal extradition agreement, including mainland China, Taiwan and Macau. The bill provides for decisions to be taken on an ad hoc basis by the Chief Executive.
The Government argued the legislation was necessary to fill a lacuna in the law and to prevent Hong Kong from becoming a safe-haven for fugitive criminals.
Opponents of the bill raised concerns about the state of the Chinese justice system and the protections afforded to defendants under Chinese law. The bill, according to critics, risked undermining the autonomy of the judiciary in the region and could be used to target dissidents and journalists.
Hong Kong has entered into extradition treaties with 20 countries but despite negotiations over the past two decades, no such agreement has been reached with China.
Following earlier protests, Ms Lam announced in June 2019 her plans to suspend the bill and declared it “dead” but this was insufficient to quell the protests and criticism of the legislation, with the formal withdrawal of the bill one of the five key demands of the protestors.
Hong Kong enjoys a degree of autonomy from China under the “one country, two systems” arrangement and objection to the extradition bill has, in recent months, developed into a wider movement against perceived threats from mainland China to the unique freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong.
The withdrawal announcement resulted in a sharp gain in Hong Kong stocks but how effective this concession will be at reducing tensions within the city remains to be seen.