Tensions in Hong Kong rose earlier this week after the People’s Republic of China passed a new national security law that many fear could be used to strip the region of its political and economic freedoms.
Less than 24 hours after the law was enacted, over 300 arrests were made at pro-democracy protests. Police called the protests “illegal assemblies” and cited other violations, NBC News reported.
On Wednesday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson chastised China over its new law, calling it a “clear and serious” breach of a 1984 joint declaration, and made it clear that the U.K. will take bold actions in response.
Hong Kong was under Britain’s colonial rule for more than a century before the British and Chinese governments signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 outlining the terms under which the region would be returned to China, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. The U.K. officially transferred the rule over Hong Kong to the PRC in 1997.
Although Hong Kong has been under China’s rule for decades, it has been granted “a high degree of autonomy” under its “one country, two systems” policy, allowing Hong Kong residents more freedoms than other Chinese residents until 2047.
Even though the declaration was signed over 30 years ago, Britain still honors its legality.
“The Joint Declaration is a legally binding treaty, registered with the UN, which continues to remain in force,” the British Parliament wrote in 2018. “It remains as valid today as it did when it was signed over thirty years ago.”
But the PRC’s national security law, which calls for harsh consequences for a list of vague political crimes, is seen by many of its critics as a major threat to the “one country, two systems” policy.
Hong Kong police fired tear gas and arrested hundreds of people as protesters took to the streets in defiance of a new national security legislation introduced by China https://t.co/ZU0EVdS77E pic.twitter.com/EhpbddqBpj
— Reuters (@Reuters) July 1, 2020
The new law was enacted on Tuesday, but a month ago, Johnson warned that Britain would be forced to take action if China encroached any further on Hong Kong’s freedoms.
“Hong Kong succeeds because its people are free,” he wrote on June 3 in The Times of London.
“Yet last month, the National People’s Congress in Beijing decided to impose a national security law on Hong Kong that would curtail its freedoms and dramatically erode its autonomy,” he continued. “If China proceeds, this would be in direct conflict with its obligations under the joint declaration, a legally binding treaty registered with the United Nations.
“Britain would then have no choice but to uphold our profound ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong.”
He asserted that if China enacted the law, the U.K. “could not in good conscience shrug our shoulders and walk away,” threatening to make major immigration shifts to offer nearly 3 million Hong Kong residents visas and improved immigration rights.
This would provide around 40 percent of the city’s population an opportunity to leave the PRC’s tightening grip, according to reports by the Census and Statistics Department of Hong Kong.
“This would amount to one of the biggest changes in our visa system in history,” Johnson wrote. “If it proves necessary, the British government will take this step and take it willingly.”
On Wednesday, Johnson further asserted that the threat he issued almost a month ago would be upheld.
Nearly 350,000 U.K. passport holders and 2.6 million other Hong Kong residents will be given the opportunity to go to Britain and work or study for five years; they then will be able to apply for citizenship a year after that, the BBC reported.
Current passport holders from Hong Kong are allowed in the U.K. for up to six months but are given limited rights.
“We made clear that if China continued down this path we would introduce a new route for those with British National (Overseas) status to enter the UK, granting them limited leave to remain with the ability to live and work in the UK and thereafter to apply for citizenship,” Johnson said.
“And that is precisely what we will do now.”
While not many details have been released regarding the unprecedented immigration policies, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the application process would be easy.
“This is a special, bespoke, set of arrangements developed for the unique circumstances we face and in light of our historic commitment to the people of Hong Kong,” he said.
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