British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday that Britain would not “leave” Hong Kong people if Beijing imposed new security laws on the former British colony.
The UK is concerned that the proposed law will jeopardize independent judicial institutions and a free press that supports Hong Kong’s position as a global business center.
“Hong Kong succeeds because its people are free. They can debate and share new ideas, express themselves as they want. And they live under the rule of law, managed by an independent court,” Johnson wrote in a column published Wednesday by The Times of London Newspapers.
“Many people in Hong Kong fear that their way of life – which China has promised will be enforced – is under threat,” Johnson continued. “If China succeeds in justifying their fears, then Britain cannot carefully raise our shoulders and leave; instead we will respect our obligations and provide alternatives.”
Johnson promises ‘route to citizenship’
In that column, Johnson reiterated a statement made last week by British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab which indicated that Britain was considering easing immigration rules for Hong Kong citizens holding British National Passports (overseas) (BNO), if Beijing imposed laws security statute.
The move will allow 350,000 12-month BNO holders visa-free access to the UK and extend the eligibility of a BNO passport to around 2.5 million people in Hong Kong.
Johnson said BNO passport holders from Hong Kong would be given “further immigration rights, including the right to work, which could put them on the route to citizenship.”
BNO passports were issued to people in Hong Kong before the area was returned to China in 1997 after 150 years of British rule.
On Tuesday, Raab said that he had contacted members of the “Five Eyes” intelligence sharing alliance, which consists of Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada, about contingency plans and the possibility of “burden sharing” if security laws led to “mass exodus “from Hong Kong.
China warns of British ‘intervention’
On Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that Britain must “renounce the Cold War mentality and their colonial mindset,” and “acknowledge and appreciate the fact that Hong Kong has returned” to China.
Zhao said London must “immediately stop interfering in Hong Kong and Chinese domestic affairs, or this will definitely backfire.”
Hong Kong has been rocked by pro-democracy protests which have sometimes been violent over the past year.
Beijing said the proposed national security law, which would bypass Hong Kong’s legislature, was the response needed to stop “terrorism and separatism” by targeting “secession, subversion of state power, terrorism and foreign interference.”
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