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International relations

UK suspends Hong Kong extradition treaty over China security law

London joins US, Canada and Australia in move expected to draw Beijing rebuke

Anti-government protesters gather at the British Consulate in Hong Kong in September 2019.   © Reuters

LONDON -- Out of fears that anyone extradited to Hong Kong could be sent on to mainland China, the U.K. said it would suspend an extradition treaty with its former colony.

"The government has decided to suspend the extradition treaty immediately and indefinitely," Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Monday in a statement to Parliament. He added that Britain "would not consider reactivating those arrangements unless, and until, clear and robust safeguards which are able to prevent extradition from the U.K. being misused under the national security legislation."

Britain's decision follows similar moves by the U.S., Canada and Australia after China's enactment of a national security law and represents a major turning point in the U.K.'s stance toward Hong Kong, since it returned the city back to Chinese control in 1997. 

It also comes as U.S. Secretary Mike Pompeo landed in the U.K. for talks with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Raab. China, 5G and Brexit are some of the main topics expected to be discussed. 

Raab also announced an arms embargo to Hong Kong -- one that has applied to mainland China since 1989 in response to the Tiananmen Square crackdown -- including a ban on the export of equipment that could be used for internal repression. The secretary called the new measures a "necessary and proportionate response" to the security legislation, but stressed that the U.K. "wants a positive relationship with China."

"But as we strive for that positive relationship, we are also clear-sighted about the challenges that lie ahead," he said.

The decision is expected to anger Beijing.

London was reviewing the implications of China's new national security law, which provides criminal penalties of up to life imprisonment for separatism, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. Given that Beijing is now able to assume jurisdiction in some cases and try them in mainland China, the U.K. cannot continue its extradition arrangement with Hong Kong, Raab said.

The U.K. has criticized the security law as a "clear and serious breach" of the 1985 Sino-British joint declaration that established the "one country, two systems" model to cover Hong Kong after the 1997 handover of the former British colony.

London already confirmed this month that it will offer a new route to citizenship for Hong Kong British Nationals (Overseas) and their dependents in response to China's security law. Extending visa rights to let eligible Hong Kongers live and work in the U.K. for longer will open a path to apply for citizenship.

China's ambassador to the U.K. has labeled the visa move as "gross interference" with China's internal affairs.

The U.K. may be turning into a haven for Hong Kongers. Pro-democracy activist Nathan Law Kwun-chung said on Twitter last week that he had arrived in London, leaving Hong Kong due to the security law.

Simon Cheng, a former employee of the British consulate in Hong Kong who alleged that he was tortured in China, is also now in the U.K. Cheng recently said he had been granted asylum by the British Home Office.

Bilateral relations are souring over Beijing's treatment of Hong Kong and China's initial handling of the coronavirus outbreak. A section of the ruling Conservative Party has grown increasingly vocal in its criticism of the Chinese state and the U.K.'s links with China.

The long-running debate over the involvement of Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies in Britain shifted last week when the U.K. banned Huawei equipment from the country's 5G networks by a deadline of 2027, reversing a decision in January allowing the company to retain a limited role.

The U.S. is suspending its extradition treaty with Hong Kong as part of an executive order issued by President Donald Trump on July 14.

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