The Canadian government is suspending an extradition treaty with Hong Kong in light of the implementation this week by China of a new national security law that criminalizes virtually all forms of dissent.
Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne issued a statement on Friday expressing “serious concern” at the passage of that legislation, the wording of which was concealed until after Beijing’s rubber-stamp legislature approved the new law.
He also said the government will remove special trade treatments for sensitive exports to Hong Kong and subject any such exports to the same treatment as if bound for mainland China.
“This process demonstrated disregard for Hong Kong’s Basic Law and the high degree of autonomy promised for Hong Kong under the ‘one country, two systems’ framework,” said Champagne in the press release announcing the move.
“Hong Kong’s role as a global hub was built on that foundation. Without it, Canada is forced to reassess existing arrangements.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told journalists following that announcement that the export of sensitive military items to Hong Kong is also now prohibited.
“Canada is a firm believer in the ‘one country, two systems’ framework,” he said.
“We will continue to support the many connections between Canada and Hong Kong while also standing up for its people.”
Under the terms of the new law, anything Beijing deems as secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces will be punishable by life in prison. It also sets up Chinese law enforcement in Hong Kong and allows for anyone detained there to be extradited to the mainland.
China has no judicial independence, and both charges and trials come at the direction of the regime.
But Hong Kong, a former British colony, was handed over to China in 1997 under a legally binding international treaty that stated its residents would continue to enjoy democratic rights that are not given to residents of mainland China, such as freedom of expression, for a period of 50 years.
That “one country, two systems” principle, which was set to last until 2047, now appears in tatters.
One Hong Kong-Canadian told Global News the new law has forced her to rule out any return to see her family in Hong Kong because she fears her pro-democracy activism will put her in danger.
Cherie Wong, executive director of Alliance Canada Hong Kong, said it isn’t just Hong Kongers who are at risk, either — anyone who sets foot there is in jeopardy.
“Canadians who are in Hong Kong right now are not safe. Canadians who travel through Hong Kong are not safe,” she said.
“Any people who step foot onto Hong Kong right now are not safe.”
There are some 300,000 Canadians living in Hong Kong.
Hong Kongers without Canadian citizenship do not require a visa to come to Canada.
According to the government, they can get what’s known as an electronic travel authorization (ETA) by filling out a form online and paying roughly $7 CAD, and have that granted within minutes of applying.
That ETA allows Hong Kongers to board a flight to Canada, where a government official said they can remain for up to six months or claim asylum at their port of entry.
According to the government, 46 Hong Kongers have claimed asylum in Canada between January 2019 and March 2020, but lawyers speculate that could sharply increase as Beijing’s crackdown continues.
Hundreds of pro-democracy protestors defied the new law on July 1, the day it came into effect and also the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China, and were promptly detained and hit with tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets.
Zhang Xiaoming, executive deputy director of Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, billed the law as a “birthday gift” to Hong Kong.
So far, the Canadian government has refused to impose any sanctions on Chinese officials similar to those imposed on Russian officials in connection to their annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.