Several months ago – with China threatening to tighten the strings on Hong Kong – the United Kingdom’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, announced the potential offer of extended residency to Hong Kongers eligible for a British passport. Yesterday, he was forced to act.
As a former British territory, approximately three million Hong Kongers are eligible for the programme, which Dominic Raab announced following China’s decision to pass a new security law, which aimed to prevent the protests that have ripped through the city-state in recent months.
The new security law has fundamentally changed the legal system in Hong Kong, introducing new protest-related crimes, with severe penalties, as China has attempted to knock down the protests of the Hong Kong people.
Protesters have spent years protesting against the growing influence over Hong Kong, which has served as a semi-autonomous region since the handover in 1997, where Hong Kong ceased to be a British territory and instead became a special administrative region of China, which allowed them some degree of control over their own laws and economy.
Protests began over a year ago in March 2019 when the government tabled extradition legislation, which would allow extradition to nation’s with which Hong Kong did not have extradition agreements, including China and Taiwan. This led to concerns that Hong Kong would be increasingly subject to the laws of China, ignoring its special administrative status.
These protests saw violent clashes between police and the people, resulting in the bill eventually being dropped, although protests continued about more general fears that Hong Kong could be threatened by the influence of mainland China over their semi-autonomous status.
This new security law seems to be emblematic of the increasing overbearance of Beijing into Hong Kong, and the vague wording of the bill has created fears that it could be used to subjugate any resistance by the people against further mainland Chinese influence.
Analysis of the law by NPC Observer, a team of legal experts from the United States and Hong Kong, identified that “its criminal provisions are worded in such a broad manner as to encompass a swath of what has so far been considered protected speech”.
Article 29 states that anyone who conspires with foreigners to provoke “hatred” of the Chinese government, or the authorities, could have committed a criminal offence, meaning that the law can be used to stifle almost any opposition within the region.
Just a day after the law was passed, the first arrests were made in Hong Kong using its powers, whilst journalists and civilians have been pictured being knocked down by water cannons on the streets – despite not appearing to pose any threat or violation of the new law.
The United Kingdom’s foreign secretary Dominic Raab responded by announcing in Parliament a new citizenship pathway, to potentially as many as 3 million residents in Hong Kong – with a bespoke new immigration system that will allow eligible people to live and work in the United Kingdom, before attaining citizenship.
Speaking in Parliament, Raab stated that China had committed a “clear and serious violation” of the joint declaration signed with the UK before the handover in 1997.
The United States have passed sanctions against China for their latest move, but as the security threat from the world’s largest nation increases, it is perhaps unlikely that this will deter future subversive action by China, either within Hong Kong, or across other neighbouring territories.