The European Parliament took a stance against the Hong Kong government’s recent attempts to adopt a controversial extradition bill on Thursday (18 July), a matter of hours after the Chinese state accused EU lawmakers of “ignorance, prejudice and hypocrisy” for presenting the resolution.
MEPs suspect the bill, which Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam recently described as “a total failure,” had been drafted by Beijing in order to arrange people’s “rendition to China for political reasons.”
The Chinese government is concerned that Hong Kong may be used as a safe haven for criminals who seek to escape the long arm of Chinese law. Beijing drew up a list of extraditable offences, which includes murder and rape.
The plans have caused uproar in Hong Kong, with millions taking to the streets at the beginning of July in protest against the bill. The demonstrations reached a climax on July 1 when a splinter group of rioters stormed the Hong Kong Parliament, breaking glass walls and defacing the building. A series of arrests have been made subsequent to the mass protests, which have been continuing regularly throughout the month.
The European Parliament’s motion that was voted on Thursday, had been tabled by 85 parliamentary members and called for the Hong Kong government “to immediately release and drop all charges against peaceful protesters” adding that an “investigation into the use of force by Hong Kong police against protesters” should be conducted hastily.
Hong Kong’s Independent Police Complaints Council has promised to conduct an investigation into the use of force against protesters, but said a fully independent enquiry “is not possible,” according to sources in the region.
But Green MEP Reinhard Bütikofer on Thursday rallied the importance of defending the Hong Kong protesters.
“When we see people rising in defence of their civic and human rights, we as Europeans must express our solidarity,” he said. “This is what we do with the people from Hong Kong through this resolution.”
Moreover, Eve Geddie, Director of the Amnesty International European Institutions Office, praised the stance taken by Parliamentarians, saying the vote shows “that the international community will not stand by while the Hong Kong police inflicts disproportionate and unlawful violence on peaceful protestors.”
On hearing the details of Parliament’s position, the Chinese government reacted with anger.
“The motion in question ignores the facts and confounds right and wrong,” a statement from China’s foreign ministry in Hong Kong read. “It is motivated by double standards and is full of ignorance, prejudice and hypocrisy.”
“It is astonishing that the MPs should ignorantly and arrogantly point fingers at law-based governance of the [Hong Kong] Government and try to dictate a Hong Kong policy to China’s Central Government.”
The statement went further, urging MEPs to “immediately stop any irresponsible and groundless accusation and clamorous intimidation…and stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs and China’s domestic affairs as a whole.”
Following the uproar from Beijing, EURACTIV caught up with one of the notable supporters in Parliament of Thursday’s motion, Lithuania’s ex-prime minister and now EPP MEP Andrius Kubilius.
“I am not surprised by the reaction of Chinese authorities. It’s a traditional reaction,” he said. “I am much more impressed by the Hong Kong people’s willingness to defend their democracy and human rights. From our historical experience of life in soviet Lithuania we know very well what does it mean to live and suffer without those human rights.”
Meanwhile, Beijing has also accused the European Parliament of turning “a blind eye to the appalling violence committed by the rioters,” which MEPs said was carried out by a “small number of protesters” and was used by the Hong Kong police as a “pretext…[for]…excessive force against the majority.”
However, the European Commission has taken a divergent line on the riots that hit the chambers of the Hong Kong Parliament at the beginning of July.
The Commission is “deeply shocked by the events of the 1st of July at the Legislative Council building,” said EU Commissioner Christos Stylianides who appeared in Parliament yesterday. Speaking on behalf of EU Foreign Affairs Chief Federica Mogherini, he called on restraint by all sides, “underlining that that violence and escalatory responses must be avoided.”
The EU “shares many of the concerns raised by citizens of Hong Kong regarding the Government’s proposed extradition reforms,” Stylianides added.
A Chinese source told EURACTIV that there has been “a lot of fuss over nothing” with regards to the extradition reforms and that the bill did not seek to impose anything “controversial” because it only sought to impose ramifications on people committing serious crimes.
This Sunday, more protests are set to hit the streets of Hong Kong, with demonstrators marching from Victoria Park near the bustling shopping district of Causeway Bay to the Court of Final Appeal in Central.
Demonstrations will also take place in the working-class district of Mong Kok, and the gritty areas of Tseung Kwan O and Sham Shui Po. There is worry that protests in these areas in particular could rapidly escalate out of control.
Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 following 156 years of British rule, and has since been considered a semi-autonomous region of the Chinese state, under the principle of “one country, two systems,” meaning that Hong Kong enjoys certain civil liberties not afforded to Chinese counterparts.
The agreement, known as the Sino–British Joint Declaration, is summarised in the constitutional document of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, which states that China’s “socialist system and policies shall not be practised in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and the previous capitalist system and way of life shall remain unchanged for 50 years.”
This agreement should therefore remain in place util 2047, when it is largely expected that China will seek to assimilate Hong Kong into its political governance structure. However, there had been concern that the recently proposed extradition bill would compromise the Sino–British Joint Declaration, in attempting to jump ahead of the 50-year period of political autonomy for Hong Kong.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]