China Accuses UK of Blatant Interference in Hong Kong Citizenship Offer | Hong Kong
Chinese Foreign Ministry accused Britain of “gross interference” in country’s affairs after Boris Johnson said he would offer millions to Hong Kong residents a path to British citizenship if Beijing goes ahead with a controversial city security law.
Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told Britain to “take a step back … otherwise there will be consequences” and said China had made “serious representations” in London about its offer to holders of British (overseas) national passports.
Although politicians and pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong welcomed Britain’s offer, most said they would prefer international efforts to focus on protecting the city as well – perhaps in the form of sanctions against China or officials in Beijing – and not just on providing sanctuary for those who want to flee.
“I think it’s a shame that they only offer us an exit and do not offer to support us in our fight for Hong Kong“said Lee Cheuk Yan, a veteran activist who was arrested in a crackdown widely condemned by Hong Kong authorities this year.
“I can understand that some people are so scared that they want to leave,” Lee said. “[But] what about those who remain? Are you going to abandon us?
There are also concerns that the offer will exclude the city’s youth, who have been at the forefront of the year-long protest movement, as BNO passports are only issued to people born before the end of 1997 of British colonial rule.
“We welcome the British by granting BNO holders the right of residence. But young people born after the British left are not BNO holders. They are our hope and should be given priority over older people like me who are at the end of their life, ”said Jimmy lai, a media mogul and outspoken Beijing critic who was arrested this year.
Britain’s position is based on the joint declaration between the two countries, which paved the way for the handover of Hong Kong in 1997 and promised the city 50 years of autonomy from that date, with its rights and freedoms protected.
The agreement has been registered with the UN, and the UK considers it a binding international treaty; Beijing now maintains that as soon as the handover was completed, it effectively became void.
“There is not a single word or clause in the Sino-British joint statement that allows the UK to bear any responsibility for Hong Kong after its return,” Zhao said Wednesday during a regular press briefing.
“The UK has no sovereignty, governance or oversight over Hong Kong… Therefore, the UK has no right to lecture or interfere in China’s internal affairs under the pretext of the joint statement. “
Johnson has said Britain will only activate its offer if Beijing “goes ahead” with the law. The Chinese parliament has approved the law, but details of its implementation in Hong Kong have yet to be clarified.
Foreign Minister Dominic Raab on Wednesday said the UK was ready to pay the price for a free trade deal with China. “We are extending the offer of the British passport holder BNO to come to the UK in the way I described is not dependent on a free trade agreement or something like that,” he told Sky News. “We will not allow this to prevent us from assuming our responsibilities on principle, both for moral reasons and for our international reputation.”
Around 350,000 people hold a UK national passport (overseas), and an additional 2.5 million people could become eligible under the UK offer. There is still a lot of ambiguity about what Johnson’s proposed “path to citizenship” would look like and who exactly might be eligible.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam accused foreign critics of “blatant double standards,” saying every country has the right to pass national security laws.
“Why should they oppose, resist or even condemn and sanction Hong Kong and the People’s Republic of China for taking similar measures to protect themselves,” she told reporters.
For now, however, many in his own city do not believe these assurances. Elaine Leong, 42, does not want to leave Hong Kong but is considering applying for a British (overseas) national passport for the first time, “just in case”.
“It’s safer to have a foreign passport in our hands in case something bad happens. It is not for us, but for the future of our child, ”she said.
“But that said, we don’t have any roots in Britain, we don’t know anyone. How easy is it to find a job when the UK economy is not good? And in a foreign country, we would be treated like second-class citizens. This is not our house.
Verna Yu contributed reporting