Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, made clear on Monday that she would move forward with a controversial law allowing extradition to mainland China even after an estimated one million people protested over the weekend.
“I have not received any instruction or mandate from Beijing to do this bill,” she told reporters. “We were doing it – and we are still doing it – out of clear conscience, and our commitment to Hong Kong.”
“Hong Kong has to move on; nobody wants Hong Kong to be a fugitive offenders haven,” she said.
The extradition bill, proposed in April, would enable Hong Kong to extradite fugitives, including foreign nationals, to mainland China for the first time.
It has drawn outcry from foreign envoys, lawmakers, human rights defenders and business groups who have raised fears it would erode rule of law in Hong Kong and leave individuals vulnerable to unfair trials.
China’s ruling Communist Party exerts extensive influence over the courts, and human rights experts have pointed out how authorities extract forced confessions, use physical torture, and slap trumped up charges against critics.
The British government warned the bill could have a “chilling effect on Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms” and damage confidence in the principle of “one country, two systems” that China and Britain agreed to before the 1997 handover.
Mark Field, the minister for Asia, told the House of Commons on Monday that he had made clear to Ms Lam and her colleagues that the city “must enjoy the full measure of the high degree of autonomy and rule of law” set out in the 1984 Joint Declaration that paved the way for the return of Hong Kong from British to Chinese rule.
“While we welcome efforts by the Hong Kong government to respond to the unprecedented levels of public concern, the FCO is clear that the changes they have proposed fail to address fully the core issues we and others have raised,” he said in response to urgent question from the Labour MP Catherine West.
A string of protests have been staged in Hong Kong, with the largest turnout on Sunday when organisers say a million flooded the city and its public transport system. Police had a more conservative estimate, saying at its peak the crowds were around 240,000.
Demonstrators defied the thirty-degree heat to march to the city’s Legislative Council, waving banners that denounced the law and calling for Ms Lam’s resignation. Pedestrian traffic was largely standstill in some areas given the massive crowds.
“For Carrie Lam to push forward with these streets is an insult to the one million people who peacefully took to the streets on Sunday,” said Man-Kei Tam, director of Amnesty International in Hong Kong, an advocacy group.
On Monday, a state media editorial in Communist Party mouthpiece China Daily, denounced the protests, saying “foreign forces are seizing the opportunity to advance their own strategy to hurt China by trying to create havoc in Hong Kong.”
“Any fair-minded person would deem the amendment bill a legitimate, sensible and reasonable piece of legislation that would strengthen Hong Kong’s rule of law and deliver justice. Unfortunately some Hong residents have been hoodwinked.”
The territory has long enjoyed greater freedom and autonomy than mainland China under the Joint Declaration, which guarantees the city’s liberties until 2047, 50 years after the former British colony was handed back to Beijing.
But recent changes have worried many that those freedoms are quickly disappearing. Since 2017, Beijing has pressured city authorities to squash dissent by expelling elected officials, jailing activists, and outlawing political parties.