China pledges to stop UK granting Hong Kong residents British citizenship

2 July 2020, 07:17 | Updated: 2 July 2020, 07:33

Police in Hong Kong started to enforce the controversial new national security law on Wednesday
Police in Hong Kong started to enforce the controversial new national security law on Wednesday. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

China has said the UK has no right to offer nearly 3 million residents of Hong Kong residency and a pathway to citizenship after Boris Johnson vowed to honour a promise to offer residents of the former British colony the right to settle in the UK.

Up to three million residents of the former British colony have been offered the right to settle in the UK and ultimately apply for citizenship after Beijing imposed a controversial national security law.

The UK Government believes the new legislation breaches the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which aimed to smooth the transition when the territory was handed back to China in 1997.

In a statement on Thursday, the Chinese embassy in London 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 and basic norms governing international relations.

"We firmly oppose this and reserve the right to take corresponding measures.

"We urge the British side to view objectively and fairly the national security legislation for Hong Kong, respect China's position and concerns, (and) refrain from interfering in Hong Kong affairs in any way."

The UK Government reaffirmed its offer to up to three million residents of the former British colony after Beijing imposed a controversial national security law on Wednesday.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Rabb has said there is little which can be done to "coercively force" Beijing if they try to block Hong Kong residents coming to the UK.

The Chinese ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, said this would be a violation of agreements between the two countries, and called the UK’s criticism of the national security legislation “irresponsible and unwarranted”.

Ambassador Liu said it was “clear … that 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 added China would take "corresponding measures", “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,” he said in a statement posted on the embassy’s website on Thursday. “The UK has no sovereignty, jurisdiction or right of ‘supervision’ over Hong Kong”.

Meanwhile, Australia is considering offering visas to Hongkongers found to be in danger following the new law.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters safe haven arrangements were being looked at "very actively", adding: "Are we prepared to step up and provide support?' The answer is, 'yes'."

Mr Raab told ITV's Peston programme: "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 BN(O)s to come to the UK."

As of February, there were nearly 350,000 BN(O) passport holders, while the Government estimates there are around 2.9 million BN(O)s living in Hong Kong.

The security law in Hong Kong - which came into effect on Tuesday night - makes activities deemed subversive or secessionist punishable by imprisonment, and is seen as targeting anti-government demonstrators.

Hong Kong police made their first arrests on Wednesday under the new law, including one person said to have displayed a sign with the Union flag which called for Hong Kong's independence.

Chinese ambassador Liu Xiaoming was summoned to the Foreign Office on Wednesday where permanent secretary Sir Simon McDonald said the imposition of the legislation breaches the Sino-British Joint Declaration.

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