LONDON: The United Kingdom has offered Hong Kong residents a broader path to citizenship in response to China’s sweeping new security law.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement represents the most direct international response to the legislation that has been condemned by Western governments and pro-democracy activists.
“We stand for rules and obligations,” Johnson told parliament just hours after China made its first arrest in Hong Kong under the new law. “We think that is the scientific basis for our international relations and the enactment and deposition of this national security law constitutes a clear and serious breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.”
About 300,000 Hong Kong citizens have British National Overseas (BNO) passports and another 2.6 million are eligible to apply. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Britain’s offer also extended to dependents of those with BNO status but refused to state how many would apply.
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Eligible individuals from Hong Kong currently visit the UK for six months without a visa. Under the new policy, they will have the right to live and work in the country for five years, and then will be allowed to apply for settled status and citizenship.
Hong Kongers who were born after the end of British rule in 1997 are not eligible, which means that many of the city’s young student activists who are most at risk of arrest under the new law cannot take advantage of the British offer.
Hong Kong was under UK jurisdiction until Britain handed it to China in 1997 with a guarantee to preserve the financial hub judicial and legislative autonomy for 50 years.
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The new law passed by China’s legislature this week without being released to the public keeping them in the dark over what constitutes a crime.
Hong Kong police arrested nine people under the law on Wednesday, the first day it came into effect. They included a man with a Hong Kong independence flag and a woman holding a sign displaying the British flag and calling for Hong Kong’s independence.