, 47 tweets, 16 min read Read on Twitter
"The Chinese leaders are ineducable...blinkered by dogma and deeply ignorant of how a place like Hong Kong works."

— British Ambassador Percy Cradock, colonial egotist and all-around prat

Hong Kong and the extradition controversy. A thread.
Protests have been taking place in Hong Kong over the past week in response to proposed amendments to the two ordinances, primarily the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance (FOO). These amendments create a process for the transfer of fugitives to places with no formal extradition treaty.
Because the jurisdiction of this change would naturally extend to the rest of China, meaning criminals could be sent to the People's Republic of China for trial, segments of the population opposed to the mainland have come out in force against the bill.
Some have pointed out connections between these groups and United States subversion outfits like the National Endowment for Democracy.
Others have shared pictures of protesters expressing nostalgia for Hong Kong’s colonial period under British rule.
While both these factors are worth examining, they don’t tell the whole story. There is sizable, genuine anti-China sentiment in Hong Kong that can’t be explained simply by foreign funding or a lingering love for the Union Jack.
(By the way, that “Chinese colonists” picture is from a protest a few years back, not the current one — though the same people are likely involved now. Regardless, we shouldn’t be sharing inaccurate images, no matter how embarrassing they are.)
But how does all this relate to extradition, and why wasn’t there an agreement between Hong Kong and the People’s Republic of China in the first place? One is legally part of the other, after all.
As you might expect in any discussion of colonial history, it all comes back to the damn Brits.
Pre-handover negotiations were fraught from the start. Thatcher’s team insisted they were at a disadvantage, since the old and busted colonialism had already been replaced by the new hotness of neocolonialism in most of the world.
This is a bald-faced lie. Britain was contemptuous of China for having the temerity to want its territory back. Thatcher’s arrogance was such that for the first rounds of discussion her team insisted on advocating continued British administration, an absurd proposal.
The Chinese respond with a perfectly fair question, enraging Ambassador Cradock and providing this thread’s header quote.
Thatcher at one point demanded military options for the “defense” of Hong Kong. Definitely something a good-faith actor does.
Since China’s No. 1 priority was the peaceful transfer of sovereignty, a number of concessions would have to be made. This included not only maintaining the colony’s capitalist system to appease Britain, but also forging alliances with local business elites to avoid panic in HK.
Extradition was a big sticking point. Rather than deal with the thorny question then, negotiators kicked the can. They made no arrangements for fugitive transfer to the rest of China, turning Hong Kong into a big criminal safehouse. (Hence, all those HK gangster movies.)
Their reasoning was China’s court system was a set of phony Communist star chambers, incapable of meting out justice.

But were they right? Is Chinese law so exceptional it's unthinkable to send fugitives there? And do China’s extradition practices vary from international norms?
We’ll have to ask the countries who’ve already agreed to repatriate criminals to China. Here’s all of them.
You’ll notice traditional Chinese allies like Russia and Iran have ratified treaties, as have other terrible horrible no-good authoritarian states like…France, Spain, Portugal and Italy. Huh. Don’t they know any better?!
Maybe they’re just confused. Let’s see what whacky stuff is in Chinese extradition law.
The generally agreed upon set of standards for an extradition includes the following: The dual or double criminality rule, the specialty rule, the prima facie rule and the political offenses rule. Some also include a non-discrimination principle.
Let’s start with the specialty rule. Not only has it been honored in Chinese extradition treaties, it’s in the law. Here’s evidence for both.
Next is the “dual criminality” rule. Again, this basic principle is spelled out in Chinese law.
Now, the political offenses rule. This can also be found in the law, but the conditions for what constitutes a “political offense” are not specified. Which seems like it’s a point in the protestors’ favor.
However! The political offenses rule is a relatively recent one, and the specifics of what one country sees as a political offense vs. another are rarely enumerated in extradition treaties. It is commonly left to discretion.
Plus the application of this rule can be capricious. An Italian anti-fascist fleeing to the US after a shooting was considered a political escapee and therefore unsuitable for extradition. But a Palestinian did not get the same privilege, despite clear political motives at play.
The final major rule is the prima facie requirement. As before, this is clearly an observed practice in Chinese law.
Lastly, the non-discrimination rule. Not only does this exist in the extradition law, it even includes political opinion — which further solidifies the political offenses rule.
Since it follows major international rules for extradition, it makes sense China would have agreements with so many countries. But this does not happen without concessions.
France, for instance, is vehemently against the death penalty and only agreed to a treaty in cases where China would guarantee the accused would not be executed.
This isn’t unique to France. As a matter of fact, another place that has had no problem sending criminals to China is…Hong Kong!
You heard right. Before the handover, there wasn't so much concern trolling over human rights or the Communist Party, just unease about the death penalty. Like France, if there were guarantees of no execution there was no issue transferring fugitives.
It’s a mystery what’s changed since then, since if anything the Chinese legal system has improved by international standards — most notably with the abolition of “reform through labor” sentencing in 2013.
In any event, accommodating these requests is not difficult. In fact, the contentious law driving these protests has already been amended multiple times to assuage concerns.
In particular, criminals can only be sent out of Hong Kong if their crime is punishable by more than seven years’ jail time — a much higher minimum than the one year set out in China’s extradition law.
In another move to ease tensions, the Hong Kong government has struck some crimes from the list of applicable offenses. These changes were made after business leaders and chambers of commerce complained.
This is one aspect of the law I do have a problem with. Financial fugitives use Hong Kong to escape to countries with no PRC extradition agreements. Bowing to this pressure didn’t make practical sense, either, as most entities complaining about the law continue to do so anyway.
Not surprisingly, the CPC agrees.
But with a demonstrated willingness to change the terms of extradition based on individual countries’ or territories’ needs and a law that hews to basic international standards, it’s bizarre to see what should be a routine amendment causing so much turmoil.
Fundamentally, this is a political disagreement. For the same reason Anglophone countries are in lockstep against any extradition treaty with China, many in Hong Kong refuse any measure that appears to cede political ground — even when that measure is entirely reasonable.
Those who have come out against it include the people you'd expect: Chambers of commerce, foreign capitalists, the US State Department.
One of the more vocal opponents is a literal colonial administrator, so take that as you will.
And the protests are already being seized on by US lawmakers in a bipartisan (natch) push against China.
But as I said before — that's not all there is to it. Hundreds of thousands of people don't fill the streets because Marco Rubio told them to. Misinformation plays a part, but many Hong Kong residents really, really don't like the mainland.
Maintaining the hypercapitalist system was necessary to get the territory back, but it's going to take a lot longer than 22 years for the Hong Kong population to think of itself as part of China. Some never will, because they want to maintain that quasi-colonial superiority.
Others will come around, and only time will tell what happens in 2047, when "one country two systems" ends. But in the meantime, it's down to the HK government to combat these tendencies and handle inevitable contradictions. They did not do so this time, and we see the results.
The bill — again, a pretty ordinary legal change — has been suspended indefinitely, and may be withdrawn completely. The case for these laws will need to be made better to avoid more embarrassing incidents.
We'll see how it goes. As always, blame the Brits.
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