BRITAIN confirmed on Friday (29) that it was prepared to offer extended visa rights and a pathway to citizenship for almost three million Hong Kong residents in response to China’s push to impose national security legislation in the former British colony.
Beijing has approved a decision to go forward with national security legislation for Hong Kong that democracy activists, diplomats and some in the business world fear will jeopardise its semi-autonomous status and its role as a global financial hub.
Britain, the US, Australia, Canada and the EU have all sharply criticised the move.
In a day of concerted action, the UK and US raised alarm at the UN Security Council over a controversial new security law for Hong Kong, infuriating Beijing which said the issue had no place at the world body.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab had said on Thursday that if Beijing went ahead, Britain would extend the rights of 350,000 ‘British National Overseas’ passport holders.
The Home Office on Friday said this policy would apply to all BNOs currently in Hong Kong — a much larger group of around 2.9 million people according to British government figures.
“If China imposes this law, we will explore options to allow British Nationals Overseas to apply for leave to stay in the UK, including a path to citizenship,” said Home Secretary Priti Patel.
“We will continue to defend the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong.”
China threatened the UK with reprisals. Beijing “reserves the right to take corresponding countermeasures”, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters at a press briefing.
Beijing has been arguing that the new legislation, likely to come into force before September, will tackle secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference in the city.
Chinese authorities and Hong Kong’s government say the legislation poses no threat to the city’s autonomy and the interests of foreign investors will be preserved.
American President Donald Trump, meanwhile, said he would strip several of Hong Kong’s special privileges with the United States and bar some Chinese students from US universities in anger over Beijing’s bid to exert control in the financial hub.
In a White House appearance that Trump had teased for a day, the US president attacked China over its treatment of the former British colony, saying it was “diminishing the city’s longstanding and proud status”.
“This is a tragedy for the people of Hong Kong, the people of China and indeed the people of the world,” he said.