What you need to know
While Taiwan looks to Hong Kong as a cautionary tale of 'one country, two systems,' its own lack of a refugee law is coming under scrutiny.
During a 2018 trip to Taipei, Chan Tong-kai, 20, strangled his pregnant girlfriend to death. He then stuffed her body into a pink suitcase, carried it through a 40-minute metro ride, and abandoned it outside of the Zhuwei MRT station, located in the outskirts of Taipei.
Chan, who has admitted to killing his girlfriend, was later arrested and sentenced in Hong Kong - not on the charge of murder, but on money laundering. Since the alleged murder was committed in Taiwan, Hong Kong authorities were only able to charge Chan for using his girlfriend’s debit card and stealing her other possessions.
One year later, the unresolved murder case has sparked a heated debate over Hong Kong’s new extradition bill, and a massive protest on April 28.
What’s the extradition law controversy about, and why does it matter to Taiwan?
The proposed amendments to the extradition law in Hong Kong have induced public fears with the possibility that Hong Kong residents can be deported to China to face unfair trials. Taiwanese nationals who’re traveling to Hong Kong could also be at risk, allegedly, if the amendments were passed.
Under Hong Kong’s current extradition system, the city has no established mechanism of surrendering criminal suspects to Taiwan, Macau or the Chinese mainland. Due to this legislative loophole, Chan cannot be transferred to Taiwan to stand trial and he might be released from prison as early as this October.
As a response, the Hong Kong government proposed urgent legislative amendments to allow case-based surrenders to jurisdictions without prior agreement. If the proposal is passed, Hongkongers could be subject to extradition to China and its dubious legal system.
Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong said the amendments would become a threat to every citizen and even foreign investors and tourists.
“Beijing can essentially target anyone for extradition, even if it’s a Taiwanese resident visiting Hong Kong during holidays. That possibility exists,” Wong told The News Lens.
Will Taiwan become a safe haven for Hongkongers?
Several public figures have recently fled Hong Kong, including bookseller Lam Wing-kee, who was one of five booksellers who disappeared in China in 2015. In fear of the proposed extradition law, Lam left the city last week to explore new opportunities in Taiwan.
“Lam is certainly not the first one to leave, and won’t be the last one,” Wong said. “It’ll be hard for activists to ensure their personal safety if the amendments were passed.”
Taiwan authorities have allowed Lam to stay for one month while he seeks employment opportunities, although Taiwan has no refugee policy in place. Although Lam’s departure could trigger a wave of outward migration from Hong Kong, Taiwan’s legal stance on refugee protection remains unclear.
Because of its geographical and cultural proximity, Taiwan remains an increasingly popular destination for migrants from Hong Kong. In the decade leading up to 2016, Taiwan granted 6,652 permanent residencies to people from Hong Kong and Macau. Despite this, dissidents wanted by Beijing could have a hard time seeking asylum in Taiwan, which currently processes such cases individually rather than codifying a procedure to welcome those fleeing the Chinese government.
Chiu Chui-cheng (邱垂正), deputy minister of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, has been openly critical of Hong Kong’s extradition amendments. As one of the safety measures, Taiwan might even consider issuing a travel alert for Hong Kong if the law was passed, he said.
The Taiwan Association for China Human Rights (TACHR), an organization aiming to defend human rights violations in China, also expressed concerns about the extradition law. TACHR director Yang Sen-hong (楊憲宏) told The News Lens that recent events only underscore the need for Taiwan to establish a refugee act in order to rescue the persecuted from China.
What lies ahead for Hong Kong and Taiwan?
Pan-democratic lawmakers have urged the Hong Kong government to establish a “sunset clause,” which would only allow a one-off extradition for Chan’s homicide case.
However, Carrie Lam, the city’s Chief Executive, rejected the proposal and said the government is determined to improve the existing legislation in addition to resolving the Chan Tong-kai case.
In a recent letter to the Security Bureau, the legal adviser to Hong Kong’s Legislative Council raised 10 questions for the government to clarify the need to change the existing extradition law.
The adviser, Timothy Tso Chi-yuen, wrote that a case-by-case approach has long existed under the current ordinance and questioned why the government insists on amending the legislation now. In addition, he stressed the importance of ensuring human rights protection and public transparency in the new bill.
The Bureau has promised to answer these queries in detail before May 14.
“I don’t have much expectation for the Legislative Council. It’d be ideal if the amendments fail to pass but that’s unlikely,” Hong Kong resident Sa Chan told The News Lens. “It’s not the first time the government forced its way through an evil law.”
In Taiwan, the slogan “Today’s Hong Kong, Tomorrow’s Taiwan” has warned against the eroding freedom and human rights in Hong Kong. This has led Taiwanese to cast a wary eye towards the controversy over Hong Kong’s looming extradition law.
“[The extradition law] will legitimize arbitrary arrests or detentions,” Chiu E-ling (邱伊翎), secretary-general of Taiwan Association for Human Rights, told The News Lens. “It’s a dangerous signal for all human rights activists and scholars, or even ordinary people who have criticized the Chinese government.”
Editor: Nick Aspinwall@TheNewsLens
If you enjoyed this article and want to receive more like it in your news feed, please be sure to like our Facebook page below.