Since Beijing introduced its National Security Law, thousands within Hong Kong have applied for foreign immigration documents. Immigration consultants in the city reported that caseloads have doubled since the law’s proposal.
On June 30, China passed a sweeping National Security Law intended to punish acts the law defines as “subversion, secession, terrorism, and foreign interference.” The widely-contested law followed months of unrest amid Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests.
Yet, some international neighbors fear that the new legislation is instead a sign that the Chinese Communist Party is encroaching on human rights.
Since the law took effect, Chinese authorities have detained numerous political activists. Just last month, authorities arrested 14 activists who were attempting to seek political asylum in Taiwan, all of whom have yet to be allowed access to their attorneys.
Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom – China’s second-largest trade partner – surprised many by adding the UK to the list of countries offering Hong Kongers political asylum stating that China’s push to enforce the recently-established National Security Law within Hong Kong was a breach of the Sino-British Joint declaration.
“It violates Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and threatens the freedoms and rights protected by the joint declaration,” said Johnson in July.
“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. And that is precisely what we will do now.”
Johnson’s announcement offers about 350,000 UK overseas passport holders, along with 2.6 million other Hong Kong residents, the ability to reside in the UK for five years, after which point they will be eligible to apply for British citizenship.
In the meantime, British National Overseas Passport holders in Hong Kong are granted permission to travel to the UK immediately, contingent on standard immigration checks.
The Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, likewise commented that he was “very actively” considering plans to grant support to Hong Kong residents, though he declined to yield insight into the terms of such residency.
“There are proposals that I asked to be brought forward several weeks ago and the final touches will be put on those and they’ll soon be considered by [the] cabinet,” he said.
“Farewell” to Hong Kong
Since Beijing introduced the legislation, thousands within Hong Kong have applied for foreign immigration documents. Immigration consultants in the city reported that caseloads have doubled since the law’s proposal.
Nathan Law, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent pro-democracy activists, announced that he, too, had fled the city two days after Beijing implemented the law in Hong Kong.
“No Hong Konger is under the illusion that Beijing has any intention to respect our basic rights and honor its promises to us,” tweeted Nathan Law, who has been a leading figure in pro-democracy activism since playing a significant role in Hong Kong’s 2014 umbrella movement. “So I bade my city farewell.”
Law, who remains in an undisclosed location, was perhaps Hong Kong’s first public refugee of the security law epoch.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen established herself in May as the first government leader anywhere to promise political asylum to Hong Kong citizens, offering these activists – and many others – a place of refuge.
Believed to be among the list is the United States, which issued an executive order on July 14 calling for the reallocation of refugee resettlement slots.
However, heeding previous orders issued by President Donald Trump, refugees from Hong Kong could very well still find themselves in immigration detention centers should they pass through other countries on their way to the US. It is also important to note the moratorium currently imposed on refugee resettlement arrivals.
The UK’s decision notably heightened tensions with China, which warned the country in a press conference on July 2 against overstepping its reach.
“The British side made an explicit commitment that it will not confer the right of abode to Chinese citizens in Hong Kong who hold BNO travel documents,” said Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry, during the press conference. “China strongly condemns this and reserves the right of further reactions, the consequences of which shall be borne by the British side.”
Still, Dominic Raab, the UK’s foreign secretary, remained firm that the UK “will not look the other way when it comes to Hong Kong, and we will not duck our historic responsibilities to its people.”
Hong Kong was under British rule until 1997, when the country handed its sovereignty to China under the condition that the city would remain autonomous from the mainland.
This condition dictates that the city has its own constitution, called the “Basic Law,” which allows it to maintain its own freedom – politically, legally and economically – and remain separate from China until 2047.
However, China’s new national security law does not exclude Hong Kong from its scope – as the agreement denotes. In fact, the country has initiated a hard-line approach to “restoring order” in the city, claiming it under China’s authority.
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