Stephen Young, a veteran American diplomat who was Washington’s consul general to Hong Kong between 2010 and 2013, says the city’s bid to bulldoze an extradition bill to ship wanted persons to mainland China – and the hefty backlash and subsequent mass protests that shocked the authorities into pulling the bill – were “all personal” for him.
“Now I am retired and no longer enjoy the diplomatic immunity I once enjoyed as an American diplomat,” Young wrote in a recent column that appeared in the Taipei Times. “Like some of the Canadians detained in China over the criminal case of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who is under investigation in Vancouver, I believe if I visited Hong Kong, the Beijing regime might seek to have me extradited to China.”
He was referring to the legal amendment to Hong Kong’s existing laws that would have sanctioned extradition of fugitives and wanted persons in Hong Kong to all jurisdictions – including mainland China – with which the city was yet to enter into a formal rendition deal.
Washington signalled its objection to the much-deplored bill once the Hong Kong government floated the plan to change laws to allow rendition, fearing 85,000 US citizens residing in the city and 1,500 American businesses that operate here might be affected. That was a concern also voiced by the American Chamber of Commerce.
“If [Chinese officials] have their way, anyone who visits Hong Kong could be subject to extradition for any manner of real or imagined charges,” Young wrote. “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.”
He added that Taiwanese visiting Hong Kong could face the same risk of arbitrary arrest and rendition and be subject to the “fertile imagination” of mainland judges and party cadres.
Before heading Washington’s consulate in Hong Kong, one of the largest American consulates, Young was director of the American Institute in Taiwan, Washington’s de-facto embassy on the self-governed island, while holding the rank of ambassador.
Young has always been a thorn in Beijing’s side for his perceived “meddling” in Hong Kong affairs during his tenure in the former British colony, with Beijing suspecting back then that the US envoy was one of the leading architects of the Umbrella Movement in 2014, which saw occupation and sit-ins in the city’s central business district for 79 days.
Young also noted that he had long been in Beijing’s bad books as a China basher over the years for his “vitriolic criticism” of Xi Jinping as an autocratic dictator.
Young lamented that Communist Party patriarch Deng Xiaoping’s pledge in the early 1980s to respect a high degree of autonomy, under his “one country, two systems” construct agreed upon by Beijing and London, had come under direct assault by the “thuggish regime” under Xi since 2012.
Young also revealed that he once enjoyed a “good working relationship” during his three-year stint with Hong Kong’s currrent, embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who was back then secretary for development and chief secretary for administration.
He said Lam had been “under extreme pressure to curtail Hong Kong’s freedoms” and that he had a certain amount of sympathy for her as someone who, after all would be ultimately dependent upon Beijing to secure her job.