China has warned that the U.K. will "bear the consequences" of its decision to suspend its extradition treaty with Hong Kong amid fears that the city's courts are no longer independent of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Britain suspended the treaty and blocked arms sales to the former British territory after China imposed its national security regime on the city, which has been rocked with anti-government and pro-democracy protests since June 2019.
Liu Xiaoming, China's ambassador to London, said via Twitter that the U.K. would "bear the consequences of damaging bilateral relations."
He described the decision as "gross interference in China's internal affairs."
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said China "urges the British side to abandon the illusion of continuing colonial influence in Hong Kong ... so as to avoid further damage to China-Britain relations."
Announcing the move on Monday, foreign secretary Dominic Raab cited a draconian national security law, which allows China's feared state security police to take over in Hong Kong-based cases deemed "serious" by Beijing, and which bans peaceful dissent under the banner of "secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers."
The law applies to anyone of any nationality criticizing the Hong Kong or Chinese authorities anywhere in the world, sparking concerns that an extradition to Hong Kong could see a case brought under the national security regime, possibly even in a mainland Chinese court.
The U.K., which has no extradition accord with mainland China, is the latest country to revoke its extradition arrangements with Hong Kong after Five Eyes partners the U.S., Australia and Canada made similar announcements.
"We will protect our vital interests," Raab said. "We will stand up for our values and we will hold China to its international obligations."
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in London on Tuesday to discuss China-related issues with Raab and prime minister Boris Johnson.
"Extradition, at the bottom of it, is a political act. It’s a political act whether or not you surrender a person,” Philip Dykes, chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association (HKBA) told the Associated Press. "Extradition treaties with Hong Kong were always on the basis that whatever happens, a person will not be removed to the mainland."
'Vote of no confidence' in Hong Kong courts
The vice chairwoman of the Association, Anita Yip, said the U.K.'s decision was a "vote of no confidence" in the city’s courts in the wake of the national security law taking effect.
Yip said some countries fear their nationals may not get a fair trial, especially in cases brought under the law, which applies mainland Chinese standards of justice directed by ruling Communist Party officials.
The law also allows some cases to be heard in mainland China on orders from Beijing, breaking a promise enshrined in Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, that Chinese government departments would refrain from involvement in the city's affairs for at least 50 years after the 1997 handover.
"Even though rights guaranteed under the Basic Law and the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) are supposed to apply to Hong Kong ... we see within the [new law] provisions which are inconsistent or may even contravene the ICCPR," Yip said.
She cited clauses which say that, when local laws are inconsistent with the new law, the new law will prevail, and that the ultimate power of interpretation of the new law lies not in Hong Kong courts but with National People’s Congress Standing Committee in Beijing.
"Now all these may give rise to legitimate, grave concerns in these overseas countries," she said in comments reported by government broadcaster RTHK.
Yip also said she won’t be surprised if more countries follow suit, though some may adopt a wait-and-see approach to see how the implementation of the new law pans out. “It is like putting Hong Kong on probation,” she said.
The review of the extradition measures came just days after the U.K. backtracked on plans to give Chinese telecommunications company Huawei a role in the UK’s 5G mobile phone network amid security concerns.
The U.K. has previously accused the Beijing government of a serious breach of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration governing the handover, under which Beijing promised Hong Kong would retain its traditional freedoms and a high degree of autonomy under its "one country, two systems" pledge.
Reported by Fong Tak-ho and Wu Hoi-man for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Cai Ling for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.