Terming China’s new security law a violation of an agreement reached when Britain handed over Hong Kong in 1997, the Boris Johnson government plans to offer citizenship to over 3.1 lakh residents of its former colony, in a move that has ruffled feathers in Beijing.
Nearly 315,000 Hong Kong residents who registered before the 1997 handover are entitled to ‘British National (Overseas)’ status, which allows limited entry to the UK. There has been a long-standing campaign to extend them full citizenship rights.
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab has announced the government’s intention to consider extending full citizenship to holders of BNO status, as a joint statement by the UK, US, Australia and Canada expressed ‘deep concern’ over the new law that has prompted clashed in Hong Kong. Reports say Beijing would consider the UK plan as an interference.
Raab said: “Currently they (BNO passport holders) only have the right to come to the UK for six months. If China continues down this path and implements this national security legislation we will change that status, and we will remove that six-month limit and allow those BNO passport holders to come to the UK and to apply to work and study for extendable periods of 12 months and that would itself provide a pathway to future citizenship”.
“If they implement and apply this national security legislation in the terms that have been described, we will change the BNO passport holder status and the arrangements for them in the way that I’ve just described”, he added.
The new security law for Hong Kong, passed by China on Thursday, makes any show of dissidence against the mainland a crime and for the first time paves the way for Beijing to install its own security agencies in the protest-wracked city. There have been violent protests in Hong Kong since last June on the issue: Beijing’s apparent tightening of control over the city and its impact on freedoms including that of free speech and expression.
Campaigners say Raab’s current offer does not go far enough to protect the rights of BNO holders if and when they are allowed into the UK for more than the current period of six months, but await more details.
The four-country joint statement by Raab, Australian foreign minister Marise Payne, Canadian foreign minister François-Philippe Champagne, and US secretary of state Michael Pompeo said: “Hong Kong has flourished as a bastion of freedom. The international community has a significant and long-standing stake in Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability”.
“Direct imposition of national security legislation on Hong Kong by the Beijing authorities, rather than through Hong Kong’s own institutions as provided for under Article 23 of the Basic Law, would curtail the Hong Kong people’s liberties, and in doing so, dramatically erode Hong Kong’s autonomy and the system that made it so prosperous”.
They added that China’s decision to impose the new law on Hong Kong was in direct conflict with its international obligations under the principles of the legally-binding, UN-registered Sino-British Joint Declaration.
The foreign ministers said: “The world’s focus on a global pandemic requires enhanced trust in governments and international cooperation. Beijing’s unprecedented move risks having the opposite effect”.
“As Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity are jeopardised by the new imposition, we call on the Government of China to work with the Hong Kong SAR Government and the people of Hong Kong to find a mutually acceptable accommodation that will honour China’s international obligations under the UN-filed Sino-British Joint Declaration.”