Like many of you, I have closely followed events in Hong Kong these past several months, since protesters took to the streets to oppose an initiative that would have sanctioned extradition of Hong Kong residents to the mainland for a wide variety of offenses. This is personal for me. I was the US Consul General to Hong Kong from 2010-13. Now I am retired and no longer enjoy the diplomatic immunity I once enjoyed as an American diplomat. Like some of the Canadians detained in China over the criminal case of Huawei executive Ms. Meng Wanzhou (孟晚舟), who is under investigation in Vancouver, I believe if I visited Hong Kong, the Beijing regime might seek to have me extradited to China. As Taipei Times readers know, I have been unsparing in my critical assessment of China’s current course under the autocratic ruler-for-life Xi Jinping (習近平).
Certainly, Hong Kong is a special part of China. But Deng Xiaoping’s (鄧小平) pledge in the early 1980s to respect a high degree of autonomy under One Country, Two Systems (1C2S) for the former colony is under direct assault today. Rule of law exists only insofar as it suits top communist officials in Beijing: that is, not much at all. If they have their way, anyone who visits Hong Kong could be subject to extradition for any manner of real or imagined charges. Like many friends I know who are active critics of the mainland, I could see myself charged with such dubious crimes as “hurting the feelings of the Chinese people,” and find the now greatly diminished Hong Kong legal system being manipulated to seek my being trundled into China proper.
Imagine the same thing happening to any Taiwan citizen who visits Hong Kong or Macau. An outspoken academic or politician from the freely democratic island could be charged with “crimes” subject to the fertile imagination of mainland courts and their political overseers. Though the Hong Kong legal system has long been a bastion of good jurisprudence, things are changing rapidly there. Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥), with whom I had a good working relationship during my tenure as Consul General, is under extreme pressure to curtail Hong Kong’s freedoms under 1C2S. I have a certain amount of sympathy for Ms. Lam, who after all is ultimately responsible to the top leaders in Beijing for her job.
If the logic of Chinese “justice” is truly followed, one could see critics of the thuggish Xi regime jailed under false charges anywhere in the world. Let’s say you are visiting a country where Chinese economic largesse is significant, perhaps in Asia, Latin America or Africa. The Chinese Embassy there turns to the local government, which has become dependent on Beijing assistance for its livelihood. Maybe they are heavily invested in the Belt and Road Initiative. I have little doubt the communist regime in Beijing would claim you had violated some obscure Chinese law, and are wanted for investigation there. How would the local government respond to such economic blackmail?
Canada has been steadfast in its determination to handle Ms. Meng’s case according to its own transparent western legal system, despite Beijing’s extreme ire. She is out on bail, living in a luxurious home she owns in Vancouver. Meanwhile, several Canadian businessmen are enjoying considerably harsher conditions in PRC jails, as their concocted cases work their way through the opaque and politicized Chinese communist legal system, where the party decides the verdict and the sentence.
If you are a Taiwan citizen, you might be informed that you are really a Chinese citizen, subject to all the extralegal vagaries of the PRC system. Since there are no Taiwan authorities or representatives on the mainland, you wouldn’t even be permitted a “consular” visit to check up on your situation. Even if you held dual citizenship with another country, China would likely insist that you are a “Chinese citizen,” or a Taiwan resident, and therefore not entitled to the niceties — such as they are — afforded to other foreigners trapped in the legal system there.
I would be delighted to be proven wrong here. But experience suggests that my forebodings are far from frivolous. Xi Jinping’s China has been on a roll recently, in asserting its prerogatives around much of the world. Its economic might and muscular foreign policy have intimidated far too many of the smaller and less developed nations of the world. You can’t say I didn’t warn you!
Ambassador Stephen M. Young (ret.) lived in Kaohsiung as a boy over 50 years ago, and served in AIT four times: as a young consular officer (1981-’82), as a language student (1989-’90), as Deputy Director (1998-2001) and as Director (2006-’9). He visits often and writes regularly about Taiwan matters. Young was also US Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan and Consul General to Hong Kong during his 33-year career as a foreign service officer. He has a BA from Wesleyan University and a PhD from the University of Chicago.
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