How sincere is the UK in offering citizenships to Hong Kong nationals?

Murtaza Ali Shah
Hamza Azhar Salam

In the Times of London, Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote, “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 alternative mentioned by Prime Minister Boris Johnson includes implementing changes in the UK’s visa regulations to accommodate approximately 350,000 Hong Residents who have a British Overseas Passport and roughly 2.5 million Hong Kong residents who would be eligible to apply for one would be granted a year’s visa which would be extendable and also open the path for citizenship.
This promise comes at a time when the Conservative government won a landslide victory in December 2019, further cementing their pro-Brexit view.
Many people believe that immigration was one of the most aspects which influenced not only the Brexit vote in 2016 but also the result of the general elections in 2019. It seems that the majority of the UK wants less, not more immigration.
Boris Johnson has often used rhetoric implying that staying in the EU was disadvantageous for the UK due to several reasons but an important one being the inflow of foreign workers into British soil.
Regardless of the previous stance of the Conservative government on immigration and the impact of Coronavirus on Britain’s economy, the Prime Minister has hinted of the possibility of the UK accepting a large number of Hong Kong residents in the near future.
Whether this is a bluff against China or a leverage seeking tool used to limit the influence of the land of the rising sun, it is surprising to note that the Prime Minister has made this promise without taking all stakeholders on board.
The UK’s economy has been deeply impacted by the Coronavirus. According to a previous estimate of the Bank of England, the UK could lose up to 14% of its GDP as a result of this virus and the recession could be the worst in 300 years.
While Boris Johnson’s offer might be considered generous towards Hong Kong nationals, to whom, it can be argued the UK owes a reasonable amount of care, is the UK ready to accept an influx of millions of new migrants given an uncertain economic future?
China’s reaction also remains to be seen. They have already rejected the idea, implying that the UK has no right to make such an offer to Hong Kong residents who are Chinese nationals. China also holds the power to control the outflow of these passport holders.
China has angrily rejected the idea, declaring Britain has no right to make such an offer to Hong Kong residents who are Chinese nationals. It is not clear whether the Chinese authorities would allow these passport holders to leave and, if they did not, what recourse Britain would have to get them out of Hong Kong.
An international crisis of epic proportions could be unleashed if Hong Kong residents try to leave but China does not allow it. What will the UK do then?
Amongst a global recession and protests against police brutality, is Boris Johnson’s offer to Hong Kong Residents sincere?
China has strongly reacted to the UK’s offer of a path to citizenship to Hong Kong nationals threatening that the UK would “bear all consequences.”
According to China, the UK has no right to give any residency rights to Hong Kong nationals. This controversy has erupted in the aftermath of China forcing an anti sedition law on Hong Kong which severely restricts the freedom of Hong Kong nationals.
Zhao Lijian, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said at a press briefing, “China strongly condemns this and reserves the right to take further measures. The British side will bear all the consequences.”
“All Chinese compatriots residing in Hong Kong are Chinese nationals, whether or not they are holders of the British dependent territories citizens passport or the British national (overseas) passport”, he said.
“If the British side makes unilateral changes to the relevant practice, it will breach its own position and pledges as well as international law.
“We firmly oppose this and reserve the right to take corresponding measures,” Zhao said in a statement. “The UK has no sovereignty, jurisdiction or right of ‘supervision’ over Hong Kong.”
10 people, including a 15 year old girl has been arrested on national security-related charges in Hong Kong after the controversial law was passed.
Earlier, almost 400 people were detained on other charges which include unlawful assembly amidst protests against this law.
Human rights activists in Hong Kong have warned that this law will be used to arrest protestors and pro-democracy activists and have demanded being allowed to seek refuge elsewhere.
On Thursday, the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, said his country was working on a scheme to provide a safe haven to Hong Kong residents after China’s “very concerning” decision.
Morrison said Australia was “prepared to step up and provide support”, although his cabinet was yet to finalise the details, including whether the scheme would include a pathway to permanent settlement.
Dominic Raab, the UK’s foreign secretary has accepted there is not much Britain can do to “coercively force” China if it tries to block Hongkongers from coming to the UK.
Raab told a news outlet, “Ultimately if they follow through on something like that there would be little that we could do to coercively force them. There is an issue around freedom and human rights in Hong Kong, and there is an issue around China keeping its word on an international obligation it made to the United Kingdom back in 1984.”
“I wouldn’t want to be naive about this; I think we need to be realistic. But I do think that China as a rising, leading member of the international community is sensitive to the reputational risk in all of this, but clearly not sufficiently that it hasn’t proceeded anyway … There is diplomatic leverage, there are other ways that we can persuade China not to fully implement either the national security law or some of the reprisals you talk about.
“But ultimately we need to be honest that we wouldn’t be able to force China to allow BNOs to come to the UK.”
Raab said he was working with other countries in the region to discuss a lifeboat operation. “We think the majority will probably hunker down in Hong Kong, and others would leave to other countries in the region.”
The question remains, how sincere is the UK in offering citizenships to Hong Kong nationals? Will the UK be able to deliver on this offer if China resists?

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