China has ordered Hong Kong to suspend extradition agreements with Australia, Britain, and Canada as retaliation for those countries taking a similar stance against the region in recent weeks.
The three nations—who along with New Zealand and the United States constitute the Five Eyes intelligence alliance—each suspended their bilateral extradition agreements with Hong Kong following the controversial rollout of China’s national security law, which marked a tightening of China’s authoritarian grip on the semi-autonomous region and, in many people’s eyes, carried the risk of extradited citizens being further extradited from Hong Kong to the Chinese mainland.
In a tit-for-tat response, China ordered Hong Kong to do the same on Tuesday—accusing Australia, Britain, and Canada of “gross interference” in China’s domestic affairs and “serious violations” of international law, the South China Morning Post reported. Hours after New Zealand also suspended its extradition deal with Hong Kong, the Chinese foreign ministry issued a warning that the nation could face a similar rebuke and urged it to “correct its mistake.”
“China is firmly opposed to this,” ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin declared. “With the help and endorsement of the Chinese government, the [Hong Kong] government has for a long time provided proactive assistance to Australia, Canada and Britain under the frameworks of mutual assistance.”
The Hong Kong government echoed these statements, accusing the three nations of politicising the issue and seriously damaging the basis of judicial cooperation with Hong Kong.
“It smacks of political manipulation and double standards,” they said in a statement.
Australia, Britain, and Canada, for their part, changed their criminal justice cooperations with Hong Kong as a reaction to China’s widely criticised national security legislation, which they feared could be misused by Beijing to unfairly prosecute or punish citizens from those countries. It is understood that the US plans to take similar action.
The law, passed by China’s rubber stamp legislature at the end of June, forbids vaguely-defined acts of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces with sentences ranging up to life in prison—and has been condemned by many as an attempt to quash dissent in Hong Kong, which was rocked by a months-long, sometimes-violent pro-democracy protest movement last year.
Canada was the first nation to react to the rollout of the laws by suspending extradition agreements in early July, with Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne saying that "this process demonstrated disregard for Hong Kong's basic law and the high degree of autonomy promised for Hong Kong under the 'one country, two systems' framework. Hong Kong's role as a global hub was built on that foundation. Without it, Canada is forced to reassess existing agreements."
Australia followed suit days later, with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison similarly stating that the decision represented “an acknowledgement of the fundamental change of circumstances ... because of the new security law, which in our view … undermines the ‘one country two systems’ framework, Hong Kong’s own basic law, and the high degree of autonomy guaranteed in the Sino British Joint Declaration.”
“What we are announcing today, both with the extradition agreement [and] the update to our travel advice ... is recognising that that has taken place,” Morrison added. “So Australia is adjusting its laws, our sovereign laws, our sovereign immigration program—things that we have responsibility for and jurisdiction over—to reflect the changes that we’re seeing take place there.”
Britain announced similar measures last week, with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab declaring that “the government has decided to suspend the extradition treaty immediately and indefinitely… [And] we would not consider reactivating those arrangements, unless and until there are clear and robust safeguards which are able to prevent extradition from the U.K. being misused.”
Even more recently, New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Winston Peters said his country could no longer trust that Hong Kong’s criminal system was sufficiently independent from that of mainland China. Hours later, China kicked back.