WASHINGTON - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday voiced concern over Hong Kong’s plans to allow extraditions to the Chinese mainland as he met with the city’s pre-eminent pro-democracy leader.
The top U.S. diplomat discussed the controversial extradition bill during talks in Washington with a delegation headed by Martin Lee, a founder of Hong Kong’s opposition Democratic Party.
Pompeo “expressed concern about the Hong Kong government’s proposed amendments to the Fugitive Ordinance law, which threaten Hong Kong’s rule of law,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement after the meeting.
“He also expressed support for Hong Kong’s long-standing protections of human rights, fundamental freedoms and democratic values, which are guaranteed under the Basic Law,” she said.
She was referring to the law that came into effect when Britain handed control of its colony in 1997 to China, which promised a separate political system in the international financial hub that includes greater freedoms.
The extradition plan recently led to scuffles inside Hong Kong’s legislature, with critics saying it would mark a significant blow to the city’s semi-autonomous status and make it less attractive to foreign investors.
Hong Kong’s government is pushing the bill that would allow case-by-case extraditions to any jurisdictions with which it does not already have an agreed treaty — including mainland China, Macau and Taiwan.
Historically Hong Kong has balked at mainland extraditions because of the opacity of China’s criminal justice system and its liberal use of the death penalty.
Lee has frequently taken his message overseas. In 2014, China voiced anger after then U.S. Vice President Joe Biden met Lee and reiterated America’s “long-standing support for democracy in Hong Kong.”
In an opinion piece this week in The Washington Post, Lee warned that the extradition law could make Americans and other foreigners “potential hostages to extradition claims driven by the political agenda of Beijing.”
“The time for the world to act to protect Hong Kong’s free society and legal system is now — not when Hong Kong people and others are taken to be jailed in China,” he wrote.
A recent report by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, an advisory body set up by the U.S. Congress, warned that the extradition bill posed “serious” security risks to the estimated 85,000 U.S. citizens in Hong Kong.