Watching millions of fellow Hongkongers taking to the streets of the territory to express their opposition and stop the government’s extradition treaty, I couldn’t believe how I was complimented, hi-fived and back-slapped by fellow American news watchers in New York.
“You should be proud of your fellow Hong Kong people standing up to the government. I wish we Americans had the same guts,” and “Yeah, the way we did during the Vietnam War and Civil Rights Movement,” best summarizes what was said as we reluctantly channel surfed to watch the news during the NBA basketball finals during commercial breaks.
The extradition law, if passed, would allow the sending of criminal suspects from Hong Kong to the mainland where there is no rule of law and judges serve under the absolute authority of the Communist Party.
The law does exclude those accused of political crimes. However, Chinese dissidents and their lawyers are routinely arrested and face trumped up charges and sentenced to jail.
The Joint Declaration signed between Britain and China before Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997, and the territory’s Basic Law, mini constitution, deliberately chose to maintain a legal firewall between Hong Kong’s justice system and the mainland to protect Hong Kong’s rule of law and judicial independence from China.
The prospect of losing that independence horrifies Hongkongers. Many of the protesters dressed in white, the color of mourning in China.
Being a Hongkonger, I was pleasantly surprised to see fellow lawyers, writers and business people join the students to express their opposition to the proposed law.
Anson Chan, who was the Chief Secretary in the Hong Kong government, both under the British and the first four years of Chinese rule, summed up people’s feelings best. “People with a clear conscience in Hong Kong feel safe in their own beds. Now, with the prospect of being taken into arbitrary detention by China, that safety is at risk.”
The additional concern is that if the law passes, the American Congress will have to review America’s relationship with Hong Kong under the U.S.-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, which established continued separate economic treatment of Hong Kong from the mainland after the handover. A very sensitive timely issue considering the current U.S.-China tariff war, as it means freedom from America’s tariffs on China.
Hong Kong being a model of People Power and democracy as preached by America’s Founding Fathers — that is enshrined in both the American and Chinese Constitutions and Hong Kong’s Basic Law — for America and others to follow, is an ironic but welcome road model back to the future.