Earlier this week, hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong citizens marched through the streets in protest of a bill which would allow suspected criminals to be extradited to the Chinese mainland for questioning and trial.
Now the bill’s future is uncertain. The pushback from the general citizenry has had a political effect, as has a matching response from the business community.
Hong Kong’s thriving international business community is the heart of the city, and the reason why China has not dramatically expanded its dominance over the city since the UK transferred control in 1997. Many of those businesses are reportedly seeking exit strategies should the extradition legislation pass.
Not all criminal offenses would be allowed to trigger extradition; the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam, has specifically excluded some infractions, including nine economic crimes which were seen as an opening for the Chinese government to legally seize companies and incarcerate businessmen. This effort has not allayed the fears of trumped-up charges by the government, accusations of which have a long history in Hong Kong.
Lam has repeatedly insisted that the law will pass, and she has put much of her political weight, aided by the weight of the Chinese mainland Communist government, behind it.
Yesterday, as reported by the South China Morning Post, divisions have arisen throughout the upper levels of government. Even strongly pro-Bejing Council members are conflicted, with some like Regina Ip encouraging a fast-tracking of the bill while others like Fanny Law publicly advocating for abandoning it in recognition of public outcry.
If the law does manage to pass, it is expected to cause a shift of businesses away from China to other nearby countries, which will harm the Chinese economy at a time when it is already under pressure from Trump’s trade war. China has been attempting to expand its international influence, and may be willing to forestall its efforts toward Hong Kong. This would be a positive outcome for world trade, which is already under pressure due to events like the trade wars and Brexit.