By Uzair Ahmed (View on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TheZair
Boris Johnson pledged to allow millions of Hong Kong residents to seek refuge in the UK if China passes a new national security law. While this decision opens the door of opportunities for Hong Kongers, it leaves many questions unanswered about how challenging it would be for these migrants to get British citizenship.
According to Mr. Johnson, “Britain would have no choice but to uphold our profound ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong”.
“If China imposes its national security law, the British government will change our immigration rules and allow any holder of these passports from Hong Kong to come to the UK for a renewable period of 12 months and be given further immigration rights, including the right to work, which could place them on a route to citizenship,” he added.
Explaining it as one of the biggest changes in immigration laws, the prime minister said the residents who already hold a British Overseas Passport and also those who’re eligible, would be granted 12-month renewable visas that would enable them to live and work in Britain. More than 350,000 Hong Kongese currently hold BN (O) passports while 2.5 million residents are eligible to apply.
Also, it would place those migrants on the route to citizenship. Presently, Hong Kong citizens with BN (O) s have the right to spend 6 months in the UK as a visitor.
Chinese Legislature passed a new security law last week. Beijing’s announcement of a current law shocked the Hong Kong residents, who consider it as a death blow to the one country-two laws model.
Hong Kongers must seek free immigration advice from a professional immigration lawyer in the UK to know more about their options.
Hong Kong’s Basic Law
The British handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997. This year will always be remembered as it was an end of a 99-year lease. That lease took place as an outcome of trade imbalances and the shifting power of the British Empire.
The lease ended in 1997, and since then, tensions between Hong Kong and China have continued.
In 1984, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Chinese Premier signed the joint declaration called the Sino-British Joint declaration.
The Sino British Joint Declaration
According to the Sino-British Joint Declaration, Britain accepted to return the new territories. Also, it agreed to return Kowloon and British Hong Kong when the lease term expired.
Under the Sino-British Joint Declaration terms, Hong Kong would turn into an administrative region under China, and it was expected to get greater freedom and autonomy outside of foreign affairs.
According to this agreement, Hong Kong was supposed to be a free port. Also, Hong Kongers were presumed to practice capitalism.
After signing this declaration, Britain started to implement democracy in Hong Kong. The formation of the first-ever democratic government in Hong Kong happened in the 1980s.
However, the strength and constancy of those changes became shaky after the Tiananmen incident occurred in the year 1989. While China refused the democratization of Hong Kong, it is still considered to be one of the major financial hubs and trade ports internationally.
- What are the Main Clauses of the Joint Declaration?
The main body of the agreement has 8 articles and 3 annexes. According to this contract, the policies will remain unchanged for 50 years, including the reassurance that the city and its residents could enjoy a high degree of freedom and power.
The agreement also states that the judiciary system in Hong Kong will also remain consistent for 50 years after 1997.
Is This Agreement Still Valid?
The high degree of freedom and power that China promised to grant Hong Kong has been an arguable subject since the handover.
The problem was aggravated in June 2014, when a State Council published a white paper declaring that China had Comprehensive jurisdiction over Hong Kong.
What Does the New Security Law Mean for Hong Kong?
On May 28th 2020, China stunned Hong Kong when the National People’s Congress approved to impose a security law in Hong Kong.
Majority of the speculations suggest that this law is a replacement of the 2003 controversial security law, Article 23 which was shelved due to massive protests. This law however, would be included as an annex in Hong Kong’s constitution, the Basic Law. Therefore, it will automatically bypass Hong Kong’s Legislative council.
What is the National Security Law?
It may be a perturbing fact for many Hong Kongers that the only publicly available document on the law is a short seven-point summary which basically aims to prevent, stop and punish all actions that jeopardize China’s national security and integrity.
The law would recognize terrorism, secession, subversion and the interference of foreign forces that threaten national security as legal offences to be punished. This would pave the way for Chinese government to establish security institutions in Hong Kong.
Why is the Law Being Passed?
In 1997, when Hong Kong was handed back to China, the policy of ‘one country, two systems’ was established for Hong Kong. Hong Kong was supposed to enjoy liberties that no other part of mainland China was. These included freedom of speech and assembly, independent judiciary and other democratic rights.
This agreement however included Hong Kong to establish its own security system which evidently never happened.
Because of China’s need for control and last year’s extradition protests, Beijing has attempted to give central government bodies power to enforce law in Hong Kong, breaching the ‘One country, Two systems’ governing model.
Reaction in Hong Kong
Although Chinese and Hong Kong officials say there is nothing to be concerned about, the announcement of the law sparked immediate opposition. Not only have the demands for Hong Kong’s independence soared, it has also triggered investors to sell stocks, the Hang Seng Index coming down to 5.6% on the day of announcement, the biggest one-day decrease in 5 years. While real estate stocks tumbled 7.7%, virtual private network downloads reported a 700% increase and Google searches related to immigration in Honk Kong grew dramatically.
Despite backlash from UK, USA, Australia and the local public, the Chinese government remains steadfast. Secretary for Security John Lee told Legal Constitution that it was “crystal clear” the legislation was all about protecting the “overwhelming majority of the public who are law-abiding”.
Why should Hong Kongers be wary?
How the national security law was introduced seems rather unusual because the public was not aware of its existence until only a week before it was voted on by the National People’s Congress, despite it being a significant political decision.
It is also imperative to note that while the US and UK are Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement’s main supporters, they are currently preoccupied with the coronavirus pandemic. Also, with the social distancing rules in place, mass protests by Hong Kongers are not expected.
With China’s history of suppression over the years like the protests of last year were considered as terrorism and tear gas and rubber bullets were fired on protestors, the people of Hong Kong are apprehensive of their rights to protest and freedom of speech.
The new security law may also lead to the prompt amendment to the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance 2012. This will facilitate a greater access to personal information by the government. It will also raise concerns about the fulfillment of Australia-Hong Kong FTA (free trade agreement) signed last year which allows free flow of financial data. Not only this, this law will affect everything Hong Kongers stand for.
Clarifications on British Overseas Passport Holders
There has been uncertainty in the statements made by the PM, Home Office, and House of Commons. The fact sheet is given by the Home Office UK that distinguishes between BN (O)s and British Overseas passport holders. The fact sheet includes different statistics for each category.
According to this fact sheet, “UK government will explore options to allow BN(O)s to apply for leave to stay in the UK, if eligible, for an extendable period of 12 months.”
However, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was less clear about the entire situation. At first, he restricts the preparatory measurements to British Overseas passport holders. Then he repeats the broader policy instead of being specific about the current scenario.
The lack of clarity was pretty evident in the speech delivered on 2nd June. There was also uncertainty regarding opening the country to the millions.
As far as those people are concerned who did not register for the BN (O) status in the first place, the foreign secretary’s response was, “We need to be realistic about the volume of people that we in this country could credibly and responsibly absorb. I do not think we can have this debate without acknowledging that. The fact is, though, that we have a historic set of responsibilities, as I set out earlier, and we will live up to them”.
Boris Johnson, on the other hand, accepts this responsibility for over 2.9 million Hong Kongers with a British Overseas passport.
Roughly 2.5 million BN (O)s are entitled to apply for passports, and it appears that anyone with BN (O) can take advantage of the current visa scheme.
On the basis of current immigration changes, those with valid BN (O) passports should be able to enter the country without needing to follow any additional requirements.
However, it’s not clear whether they take a 5-years or 10-years route to citizenship as PM’s proposal only highlights that the change of rules “could” place them on the “route to citizenship”.
China’s Reaction Over the UK’s Interference
While surveys show that there’s massive support for Boris Johnson’s offer to British Overseas passport holders, it is still not clear that how long he would be able to enjoy that support if a huge number of migrants enter the UK at a time when the economy and job market is already suffering due to the Covid-19 crisis.
According to Steve Tsang, Director, SOAS China Institute, London, “London doesn’t want to have a Hong Kong crisis.”
“The last thing London wants is to have three million British overseas passport holders coming to the U.K.,” he added.
Many people have already rushed to the British embassy to renew their British passports after the new Chinese security law was approved.
Over the years, human rights activists and critics in Hong Kong have shown immense courage to defend their rights. Be it Umbrella Movement in 2014 or facing brutal police violence last year, they have come out in the tens of thousands to demand justice.
Now a pragmatic threat is staring them in the face.
The move to pass the new security law in Hong Kong displays the vulnerability of Beijing in its capability to pass contentious laws using pro-government lawmakers in Hong Kong’s LegCo. Pro-government parties suffered in last year’s district council elections and are not expected to do well in the upcoming legislative council elections.
It also shows how desperate China is to gain control over Hong Kong a full 27 years early.