Written by Adrian Chiu.
Image credit: Hong Kong Shatin anti-extradition bill protest by Studio Incendo/Flickr, license: CC BY 2.0
During G20 proceedings in Osaka, Hong Kong shot to the centre of international attention with a record number of people protesting against the extradition bill amendment (逃犯條例修訂). The protest movement took a radical turn with the storming of the Legislative Council (Legco) in the aftermath of the annual 1 July ‘Handover Day’ protest. Demonstrators argued the temporary Legco occupation was in response to the government’s indifference to three deaths (styled as martyrs) in the past month at due at least partly to the proposed extradition bill. However, protester actions have divided opinions on the previously largely peaceful protest. The occupation of the Legco felt like the climax of the whole movement and it is difficult to predict what will be the next step.
In the media, the focus of the whole row was the Hong Kong government’s unresponsiveness in the face of what was probably the largest march ever to occur in the city. Media narratives suggest the government’s lack of response escalated the protests, which further reflected Hong Kong people’s wider discontent towards the Hong Kong and Beijing governments. Regardless of the physical damage done to government buildings, the damage to Carrie Lam’s administration’s reputation is beyond repair. Although China is unlikely to dismiss her now, lest appearing to concede to protestor demands, the effective governance of Hong Kong has long gone out the window.
As a first-year PhD student studying Hong Kong-Taiwan interactions, however, this saga can be seen from a different perspective in relation to Taiwan. The starting point of the extradition bill amendment was arguably an unresolved murder case involving current legal arrangements between Hong Kong and Taiwan. A couple, both Hong Kong citizens, travelled from Hong Kong to Taiwan in February 2018. The boyfriend was suspected of murdering his girlfriend, storing her body in a suitcase and abandoning it during the trip. Facing an arrest warrant issued by the legal authorities of Taiwan in December 2018, he fled to Hong Kong.
Hong Kong and Taiwan do not have existing legal arrangements allowing Hong Kong to extradite Hong Kong citizens to Taiwan. Hong Kong’s current 1995 extradition law does not allow suspects in Hong Kong to be extradited to other parts of China, of which Taiwan is a part according to the PRC’s interpretation. For any bilateral negotiation of extradition, the Hong Kong government would request Taiwanese authorities to accept the ‘One China Principle’ – a request which the incumbent DPP government would refuse. Thus, under the current legal and political framework of Hong Kong-Taiwan relations, the murder case remained stalled and the suspect could not be brought to justice.
Such context provides the Hong Kong government justification, whether valid or not, to propose an amendment allowing extradition to Taiwan of suspects in a way that avoids cross-Strait complications. Since the transition of sovereignty in 1997, the Hong Kong government was tasked with promoting through its interactions with Taiwan the unification model that China favours – One Country Two Systems. Should Taiwan be able to apply for extradition without accepting the One China Principle, this case could be testament to the flexibility of ‘One Country, Two Systems’ model. Hong Kong’s role of promotion is particularly significant, given current circumstances where official interactions between Hong Kong and Taiwan have been frozen since 2016.
Since Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement and Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement in 2014, the two have shared ever-increasing sentiment against the Beijing government. Social movement activists have interacted with each other more frequently, although many Taiwanese activists were refused Hong Kong entry visas. Such interactions have not only strengthened their respective opposition and mistrust towards China, but also a sense of ‘community of shared destiny’ between Hong Kong and Taiwan, reflected by the slogan of ‘Today Hong Kong, Tomorrow Taiwan’ (今日香港，明日台灣).
Such shared sentiment is evident in at least two aspects of recent events. First, due to judicial distrust towards China, the extradition bill amendment was quickly branded by critics as the “China extradition bill” (送中條例), depicting the law as opening the door for extradition to China of any Chinese political dissident or foreign citizen. This strategy was effective at mobilising public support because it echoed public fear of the absence of rule of law in China. Importantly, protest movements did not just happen only in Hong Kong. Taiwan’s activists also organised solidarity protests against the extradition bill.
Second, Tsai Ing-wen was very effective in reviving her support by playing ‘the Hong Kong card’ to capture sentiments of insecurity towards China. Prior to Xi Jinping’s hardline speech at the beginning of this year and the recent extradition bill saga, Tsai had low public support. There was even talk within DDP ranks of candidate change for the 2020 presidential election. But recent events enabled Tsai to target China and voice her solidarity with Hong Kong people to fight for “freedom and democracy”. She has since used an anti-One Country Two Systems platform to boost her popularity and defeated William Lai in the DPP primaries.
The current situation in Hong Kong remains volatile, and the trajectory of Hong Kong-Taiwan interactions will continue to be a struggle between promoting One Country Two Systems and resisting Chinese influence.
Adrian Chiu is a PhD candidate at the Department of Politics and International Studies of School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. His research interest includes the contemporary developments on Hong Kong-Taiwan relations and cross-Strait relations.