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Business sector ‘has to back Beijing’

Businesses ‘must back Beijing’ on extradition

Liaison office remarks on extradition bill compel support, James Tien says

Beijing’s drive to push through a controversial extradition bill in Hong Kong will effectively force the city’s

business sector to align behind the proposals, a former lawmaker has said.

James Tien Pei-chun, of the business-friendly Liberal Party, said strong remarks attacking Western powers for

interfering in the row – from the director of Beijing’s liaison office in the city, Wang Zhimin – had made it

essential the entire pro-establishment camp back the government’s push.

“The government could ask for a vote on the bill at any time, or in June or July, because it has now become a

mandatory mission [from Beijing],” Tien said on a radio programme yesterday. “The pro-establishment camp will all

fall in and support it.”

The contentious bill would allow the transfer of fugitives to jurisdictions Hong Kong does not have an

extradition deal with, including the mainland.

Opposition to the bill has triggered unprecedented clashes in the legislature and posed the worst political

crisis of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s leadership. The plan’s critics say it could leave

Hongkongers at risk of politically motivated prosecution.

Another pro-business party, the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong (BPA), said it supported the

rule change but wanted more clarity. “We will work to scrutinise and improve the bill in a pragmatic manner but

the prerequisite is we support it,” party leader Lo Wai-kwok said.

“We will definitely not shoot the legislation down.”

The BPA and the Liberal Party have eight and four seats respectively in the Legislative Council. The Liberal

Party did not indicate how it would vote on the bill, but previously questioned the urgency of the changes and

said it would make amendments.

Another business-friendly lawmaker and delegate to the national legislature, Michael Tien Puk-sun, said Beijing’s

stance also caught him by surprise, but that he had not made up his mind on how he would vote.

“I was prepared to debate the legality of my counterproposal, but with the latest remarks reportedly by Wang I

can’t do much,” he said, referring to his proposal to try Hongkongers locally instead of transferring them across

the border.

Wang reportedly shot down alternatives, including Tien’s, and stressed that if the mainland could not put its own

citizens on trial within its own borders, it would be tantamount to granting Hong Kong extraterritoriality.

“When the central government rejects my plan on grounds of sovereignty, I just shut up, because a definitive call

has already been made,” Michael Tien said.

A political source confirmed the government already had enough votes to pass the bill.

Lo rejected the suggestion Wang’s comments put any pressure on his party, and described the call for unity as

“something positive”. He added it was still possible to amend the current bill.

James Tien questioned why Wang did not make clear Beijing’s support for the government’s proposal months earlier

instead of allowing the issue to spiral.

Jimmy Kwok Chun-wah, chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries, stressed local businesses felt

amendments were necessary. “We believe there are ways to deal with concerns over the mainland system, or for the

government to clarify more,” he said, referring to what he called dubious practices on the mainland. “We believe

the central government wants to improve the business environment, instead of going back to a historical problem.”

The government was under increasing pressure to skip clause-by-clause scrutiny of the bill, after rival camps in

Legco could not resolve the procedural disputes on it. The radical move, however, was so controversial some proestablishment

lawmakers were openly against it.

Legco’s House Committee collected lawmakers’ views on the way forward by Tuesday afternoon. The government,

according to sources, would still receive most of its allies’ support to leapfrog the scrutiny stage and present

the bill directly at full council.

Two pro-establishment lawmakers from functional constituencies, Tony Tse Wai-chuen and Ma Fung-kwok, faced

pressure from their electorates to oppose the bill. Tse yesterday shrugged off calls from 400 architects and

surveyors to conduct a proper consultation before voting.

The head of the city’s Catholic community, Cardinal John Tong Hon, called on government to “listen to different

views” and “truly defend the personal safety and freedom of the citizens”.