The Canadian government issued a statement earlier this week over the devolving situation in Hong Kong, where violent mass protests have sparked over a proposed new extradition law.
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This proposed law would make it easier for individuals to be extradited into Mainland China to face trial under Chinese law, with critics arguing there would be little oversight and that it violates Hong Kong’s limited autonomy granted in an agreement between the United Kingdom and China after the colony’s 1997 handover.
Hong Kong citizens, Mainland Chinese citizens in Hong Kong, and foreigners and tourists in the city would all be affected by the extradition law, as it applies to everyone. Without proper safeguards, individuals accused of a crime in Hong Kong could face Chinese law, which is known for its arbitrary nature, providing less safeguards, and being a tool to control dissent.
In her statement, Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland says the Canadian government is monitoring the situation and concerned for the impact it could have on Canadian citizens living in Hong Kong. It is estimated there are approximately 300,000 Canadian passport holders in the city.
More than a million people — approximately one-seventh of the city’s population — took part in relatively peaceful protests on Sunday. However, police used force to quell protests on Wednesday that blockaded Hong Kong’s legislature, resulting in numerous arrests and injuries.
“Canada remains concerned about the potential effect these proposals may have on the large number of Canadian citizens in Hong Kong, on business confidence, and on Hong Kong’s international reputation,” said Freeland.
“We urge the Hong Kong government to listen to its people and its many friends around the world, and allow time for thorough consultation and consideration before making any amendment to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance. Freedom of expression and assembly are the bedrock of Hong Kong’s free society. It is vital that any legislation preserve Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, rule of law, and independent judiciary.”
Freeland’s criticisms were sharply rebuked by the Chinese Embassy for Canada in Ottawa, calling her comments “irresponsible” and “erroneous.” They also claimed the Hong Kong protests were incited by “external forces.”
“We deplore and firmly oppose this. No country should interfere in the internal affairs of other countries on the grounds of caring for its expatriates… What really affects Hong Kong’s business confidence and international reputation is not the amendment of the ordinance, but those acts of violence, which have been incited by external forces and damage social peace and disregard the law,” reads the Chinese government’s statement.
“We urge the Canadian side to exercise caution in its words and deeds, stop intervening in the normal legislative process of the Hong Kong SAR, and stop in whatever form interfering in Hong Kong affairs and China’s domestic affairs.”
Civil unrest in Hong Kong is expected to continue over the weeks and months, with expectations that Hong Kong’s leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, will carry forward with the extradition law plans, despite the policy’s unpopularity amongst a wide range of Hong Kong citizens, including businesses, lawmakers, judges, and students.
Recent protests have delayed further legislation discussions, but the law could still pass before the end of the month.