LONDON: The UK government on Tuesday asked China to step back from the brink and respect Hong Kong’s autonomy as it reiterated its plan to offer British National Overseas (BNO) passport holders in the region a path to citizenship if a controversial security law goes ahead.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab made a statement in the House of Commons, which resumed its physical sittings under the coronavirus social distance norms, to stress that Britain would not look the other way as the freedoms of the people from its former colony are under threat.
“There is time for China to reconsider, there is a moment for China to step back from the brink and respect Hong Kong’s autonomy and respect China’s own international obligations,” Raab told the Commons.
“But if China continues down this current path, if it enacts this national security law, we will consider what further response we make… the United Kingdom, have historic responsibilities, a duty I would say, to the people of Hong Kong. So, I can tell the House now that if China enacts this law we will change the arrangements for British National Overseas passport-holders in Hong Kong,” he said.
The BNO status was conferred on British Dependent Territories Citizens connected with Hong Kong as part of the package of arrangements that accompanied the Joint Declaration in 1984, in preparation for the handover of the territory to China.
And under that status, the BNO passport holders are already entitled to UK consular assistance in third countries. The British government also provides people with BNO passports visa-free entry into the UK for up to six months as visitors.
“If China follows through with its proposed legislation, we will put in place new arrangements to allow BNOs to come to the UK without the current six month limit, enabling them to live and apply to study and work for extendable periods of 12 months, thereby also providing a pathway to citizenship,” the Cabinet minister said, confirming some previous reports around a change in status for an estimated 3 million Hong Kong nationals.
“I sincerely hope China will reconsider its approach. But if not, the UK will not just look the other way when it comes to the people of Hong Kong. We will stand by them, we will live up to our responsibilities,” he added.
On May 22, during a meeting of the National People’s Congress, China proposed a national security law for Hong Kong. On May 28, the National People’s Congress adopted this decision.
China’s Foreign Minister, State Councillor Wang Yi, made clear that this legislation will seek to ban “treason, secession, sedition and subversion” and it is expected to be published in full shortly.
“The proposed national security law undermines the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ framework under which Hong Kong is guaranteed a high degree of autonomy with executive, legislative and independent judicial powers,” Raab said.
“The proposed national security law, as it has been described, raises the prospect in terms of the substance and the detail of prosecution in Hong Kong for political crimes, which would undermine the existing commitments to protect the rights and the freedoms of the people of Hong Kong as set out in the Joint Declaration but also as reflecting International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” he said.
In response to questions, he added: “The sad reality is that if China continues down this track, it will be strangling what has long been the jewel in the economic crown.”