What does Hong Kong people’s refusal of the extradition bill mean for China’s global extradition agenda and international image?

By Jerome A. Cohen

Beijing’s main goal in extradition was to get its hands on Mainlanders it deems offenders for both economic and political reasons, just as it has been often unsuccessfully trying to snare them from major democratic countries where they tend to take refuge. Finally enabling this to happen in Hong Kong would have been an encouraging step toward Beijing’s broader objective with the unyielding democratic countries.

Until now, the refusal of Hong Kong, which knows the quality of PRC justice better than any other jurisdiction does, to send suspects to the PRC — its own central government — has been a key argument against extradition to the PRC by the major common law countries. Australia almost succumbed to PRC blandishments, which would have been a big victory for Beijing. The current Hong King fiasco will further set back PRC efforts in the common law countries and make even those democratic continental law countries in Western Europe that have gradually been yielding to PRC extradition pressures less likely to ratify extradition agreements and to generously implement them.

Events have their uncontrollable consequences. This huge flap over “rendition” has undoubtedly turned many more Hong Kongers, especially the younger ones, against “One Country, Two Systems”, stimulating some to leave and fewer to stay and fight for a better future than they can foresee in the current circumstances. I wonder how many may now be amending the optimism of the Victorian era poet who blindly wrote as the forces that led to World War I began to gather: ”For I looked into the future, far as human eye could see, saw a vision of the world and all the wonders that would be.”

To those observers who have sought to enlighten people in China and abroad about the nature of the PRC justice system and who are still attempting to cooperate with repressed Chinese law reformers and human rights lawyers and their would-be clients, the Hong Kong fiasco is a welcome stimulus to our work. Sadly, although Xi Jinping and his Party elite hope to enhance PRC “soft power”, they fail see how important a nation’s justice system is to the world’s evaluations of its “soft power”. 

In any event the enhancement of the Party’s hard power at home is far more important to them, and their version of the criminal process is crucial to the effectuation of Party power and assurance of their survival.