LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has offered visas to millions of Hong Kong residents and a possible route to citizenship if China persists with its national security law.
“Many people in Hong Kong fear their way of life — which China pledged to uphold — is under threat,” he wrote in an article for a Hong-Kong based magazine.
“If China proceeds to justify their fears, then Britain could not in good conscience shrug our shoulders and walk away; instead we will honour our obligations and provide an alternative.”
The prime minister wrote that about 350,000 people in Hong Kong currently hold British National (Overseas) passports, which allow visa-free access to Britain for up to six months, while another 2.5 million people would be eligible to apply for one.
“If China imposes its national security law, the British government will change our immigration rules and allow any holder of these passports from Hong Kong to come to the UK for a renewable period of 12 months and be given further immigration rights, including the right to work, which could place them on a route to citizenship,” he wrote.
The new security law was brought in after a wave of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and approved by Chinese parliament as necessary to tackling “terrorism” and “separatism”.
Many opponents fear it will lead to political oppression. eroding freedoms and autonomy provided in the 1997 handover from Britain to China.
Johnson said the Hong Kong law would “curtail its freedoms and dramatically erode its autonomy”. He said the if the contentious was implemented, “Britain would then have no choice but to uphold our profound ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong”, he wrote.
The UK has already announced plans to extend visa rights and joined international condemnation of Beijing but Johnson’s personal intervention significantly ups the pressure.
“I hope it will not come to this,” he wrote, insisting that “Britain does not seek to prevent China’s rise. It is precisely because we welcome China as a leading member of the world community that we expect it to abide by international agreements,” he wrote.
He rejected claims that the Britsh government organised the protests. “Britain wants nothing more than for Hong Kong to succeed under ‘one country, two systems’. I hope that China wants the same. Let us work together to make it so.”