On Oct 2, 2019, to mark the 100th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Finland, their two presidents, Donald Trump and Sauli Niinisto, issued a joint statement. It declared that “our relationship is stronger than ever”, that the two countries “enjoy exceptionally strong security cooperation”, and that they planned to work together for “effective international cooperation in tackling common challenges”.
Given Finland’s strategic location as Russia’s neighbor, the US has decided to ramp up its involvement there and to woo its leaders. On Feb 2, therefore, after the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, hosted the Finnish foreign minister, Pekka Haavisto, in Washington, DC, Pompeo’s department announced that they had discussed various matters, including the “importance” of countering “Russian and Chinese malign activity”.
In a tweet, moreover, on July 3, Pompeo said he had just had a “great conversation” with Haavisto, and that he appreciated Finland’s “strong partnership on security and development issues worldwide”. He did not, however, reveal if they had also discussed Hong Kong, which had enacted its National Security Law only three days previously, although it is a fair bet they did. After all, Canada, a US partner in the Five Eyes security alliance, had that same day announced the suspension of its fugitive surrender agreement with Hong Kong, while other alliance partners, at US insistence, were preparing to follow suit.
What is known, however, is that just 10 days after his conversation with Pompeo, Haavisto, on July 13, duly announced that Finland’s fugitive surrender agreement with Hong Kong will no longer be applied. This, he claimed, is because Hong Kong’s new National Security Law meant people could be transferred to the Chinese mainland for trial, and “the situation has changed from the time when the treaty was signed”.
Haavisto’s words, of course, would have been music to Pompeo’s ears, who may even have ghostwritten them, as they chimed with the identical steps being taken by the Five Eyes. Of course, US policy is to weaken China by hurting Hong Kong, and it has tried hard to enlist the support of the European states. Indeed, at the 56th Munich Security Conference, held in Germany from Feb 14-16 and attended by Finland, the US secretary of defense, Mark Esper, who accompanied Pompeo, clearly spelled out US geopolitical objectives. Having declared that “we are now in an era of great-power competition’ ”, he said that although the US “does not seek conflict with China”, it was nonetheless preparing “once again for high-intensity warfare”.
Having suitably alarmed the Europeans, Esper warned his “friends in Europe” that they needed to understand that “America’s concerns about Beijing’s commercial and military expansion should be theirs as well”. Not to be outdone, Pompeo announced that Huawei and other tech companies were “Trojan horses for Chinese intelligence”, and that “we’re all in this fight together”, meaning partnerships with China were best avoided. The US hostility toward China has resonated throughout Europe, and shown itself in various ways, including illogical attempts to damage Hong Kong.
On Oct 16, President Niinisto duly announced that because of the possibility of criminal fugitives surrendered to Hong Kong being sent on to the Chinese mainland, Finland will suspend its fugitive surrender arrangements with the city. This, of course, was exactly what Pompeo wanted to hear, although the move is largely symbolic, given that cases of fugitive surrender between the two places are few and far between. There is, nonetheless, an important principle at stake, which recognizes that criminal suspects should be held accountable, and Finland should not be sending out the message that offenders can claim safe haven on its soil.
In any event, the concerns expressed by Finland are illusory, and simply a smokescreen to justify its compliance with America’s wishes. Although it is certainly true that the National Security Law (Article 55) envisages circumstances in which people accused of violating national security can be tried on the mainland, this can only ever occur in exceptional circumstances. A transfer of this sort can ever arise only if Hong Kong cannot handle the case, as where, for example, public order has broken down, or where there is a major involvement of foreign forces, such as organized spying, or where national security is imminently threatened, as in a state of emergency. Quite clearly, none of these situations is likely to arise, and, even if they did, they would not concern the types of criminal normally surrendered between jurisdictions, whether murderer, child molester, kidnapper, rapist or robber. For Finland now, for fabricated reasons, to give the green light to such people to seek safety in its country is abhorrent to all right-thinking people, an insult to the victims of crime, and an existential danger to its own citizens.
Even if, moreover, Finland was genuinely concerned over the fate of suspects accused of politically related offenses, the terms of the Hong Kong-Finland Surrender of Fugitive Offender Agreement, dated Aug 15, 2013, should have put its mind at rest. Whereas Article 6(1)(a) provides that there will be no surrender if the suspect is accused of or has been convicted of “an offence of a political character”, Article 6(1)(b) indicates that a request for surrender will also be refused if is made for the purposes of prosecution or punishment of someone on account of their “political views”. Quite clearly, therefore, if there are political overtones to a case, which is presumably the Finnish concern, this is already a basis for refusing a surrender request.
The protections, moreover, go deeper than that. As the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance (Section 5(5)) makes clear, an order for surrender cannot be made unless a guarantee against re-surrender is given, meaning that the person surrendered will not be handed over to any other place without first having an opportunity of leaving the place to which he was originally surrendered. This protection is duly reflected in Article 14(1) of the Hong Kong-Finland SFO Agreement, and this, when read in conjunction with the other protections, highlights the artificiality of Finland’s professed concerns over surrendering criminal suspects.
In recent years, Hong Kong and Finland have enjoyed good relations, and closer links have resulted. Whereas Finland was ranked as Hong Kong’s 54th-largest trading partner in 2019, its exports of optical, photographic, technical, and medical apparatus to Hong Kong were worth $17.2 million in 2018. By June 2018, Finnish companies had established nine regional offices and nine local offices in Hong Kong, and there were 12,936 visitor arrivals from Finland to Hong Kong in the first six months of 2019. The Finland Chamber of Commerce is active in Hong Kong, promoting Finnish enterprises, and an agreement was signed between the two places in 2018 to avoid the double taxation of companies.
It is therefore a great pity that Finland has chosen to take hostile actions against Hong Kong, which can undermine criminal justice in both places. Even if Finland wanted good relations with the US, this does not mean that it needed to buy into the US’ crude anti-China agenda. If this is the price of US friendship, Niinisto should have had the guts to walk away, which is what statesmanship is supposed to be all about.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS