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Jimmy Lai lawyer, fugitives target Hong Kong trade offices in US talks

Jimmy Lai lawyer, fugitives target Hong Kong trade offices in US talks
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Two Hong Kong fugitives and a lawyer representing jailed media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying met US lawmakers on Thursday to push for the passage of a bill that could close the city’s representative offices in America and advocate for the release of Lai.

Speaking at a public round table event organised by the House Select Committee on China, Frances Hui Wing-ting, Joey Siu Nam, and human rights lawyer Jonathan Price also called for the passage of other measures meant to counter alleged human rights violations by the Hong Kong and mainland Chinese governments.

The Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office (HKETO) Certification Act would require the White House to “remove the extension of certain privileges, exemptions and immunities” to the offices if it decides that Hong Kong no longer enjoys a high degree of autonomy from Beijing.

Sponsored by Republican congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey, the bill was approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee in November, and a Senate version of the bill passed that chamber’s foreign relations committee less than four months earlier. Neither has been put to a full chamber vote.

Citing the bill’s unanimous passage in the House committee, Hui said: “We haven’t received an explanation about why the bill hasn’t been put on the floor, and so we want to ask your committee to weigh in with your leadership to ensure there is a vote as soon as possible.”

Hui also referenced the case of three men charged in Britain with conducting spying activities by allegedly carrying out surveillance against people from Hong Kong. One of them serves as an office manager of the HKETO in London.

Hui, Siu and Price asserted repeatedly that Hong Kong and mainland government officials were engaged in efforts to harass opposition leaders living overseas and their family members.

As such, another bill they cited in the discussion was the Transnational Repression Policy Act, for which there are both House and Senate versions with bipartisan support. Neither has cleared the committees authorised to send them for floor votes.

The bills call for sanctions against those “responsible for the rendition of journalists, activists, or other individuals to a country in which the person would be at risk of irreparable harm upon return”.

None of the guests invited by the committee, however, called for a complete break in exchanges between Hong Kong and the US.

Arrest warrants were issued in 2023 for Frances Hui Wing-ting (top row, right) and Joey Siu Nam (bottom row, left), among others accused of violating Hong Kong’s national security law. Photo: Sam Tsang

When pressed by Representative Dan Newhouse, a Republican from Washington state, however, Siu said complete revocation of America’s Hong Kong Policy Act – which established the city as a jurisdiction separate from mainland China on economic, trade and other fronts – should only be “a last resort”.

Wrapping up the event, committee chair John Moolenaar, a Republican from Michigan, said: “Some of the ideas that you’ve suggested we can follow up on and I think they’re very helpful.”

Hui was accused by the Hong Kong authorities of urging nations to impose sanctions, blockades or engage in other hostile actions. She is the executive director of concern group We Hongkongers, based in the United States.

Similarly, Siu, a graduate of City University currently living in the US, was accused of repeatedly urging foreign countries to impose sanctions, blockades or engage in other hostile actions against central and Hong Kong government officials and “prosecution personnel”.

Human rights lawyer Jonathan Price, a member of Jimmy Lai’s legal team, addresses the select committee’s round table. Photo: YouTube/ US Select Committee on the CCP

Lai is the 76-year-old Apple Daily founder, who has denied two conspiracy charges of collusion with foreign forces under the Beijing-decreed national security law, and a third charge of conspiracy to print and distribute seditious publications under colonial-era legislation.

Lai is also accused of the provision of financial help to the “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” lobbying group in an attempt to trigger China’s political and economic collapse.

There are more than a dozen HKETOs outside mainland China, including three in the US – in Washington, New York and San Francisco.

The offices, which mainly carry out trade promotion and cultural diplomacy responsibilities, are not diplomatic missions because Hong Kong is not a sovereign state. But they do have some of the privileges and immunities of diplomatic missions granted in many countries.

Asked for a response to the committee’s event, a Hong Kong government spokesman said: “The suggestion that certain individuals or groups should be immune from legal consequences for their illegal acts is no different from advocating a special pass to break the law.

“The HKSAR Government will not tolerate any form of interference by anyone with the judicial proceedings of the HKSAR. The HKSAR will continue to resolutely discharge the responsibility of safeguarding national security,” he said, adding that “all defendants charged with a criminal offence have the right to and will undergo a fair trial by the judiciary”.

With respect to discussion of Lai’s trial, the spokesman said that “it is inappropriate for any person to comment on the details of the case” because legal proceedings are ongoing.

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