After the UK offered citizenship to millions of Hong Kong residents, China retaliated with a warning.
China issued warnings against the UK promise to offer nearly 3 million residents of Hong Kong — those with British national overseas status (BNO) — the right to settle in the UK.
The Chinese embassy in London released a statement saying that “all Chinese compatriots living in Hong Kong are Chinese nationals.”
“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,” the statement continued. “We firmly oppose this and reserve the right to take corresponding measures.”
Britain’s pledge comes as China unrolls its new national security law in Hong Kong, granting Beijing the authority to crack down on political crimes and further restricting the autonomy of the city.
However, they provided no further details about the ”corresponding measures,” leaving it unclear if China’s response applies to Britain or to BNO passport holders.
“Watershed moment in Sino-British relations”
On Wednesday, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced that Britain will offer citizenship to Hong Kong residents in possession of BNO passports or who are eligible for one.
Raab’s pledge follows up on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision early June to open a path to what he called one of the “biggest changes” to the British visa system, offering the right to live and work in the UK to Hong Kong citizens. This offer would come into play should China proceed with passing its national security law, which it did.
In a commentary in the Times, Johnson wrote, “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 its 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 would place them on the route to citizenship.”
He continued: “This would amount to one of the biggest changes to our visa system in history. If it proves necessary Britain will take this step and take it willingly.”
Johnson’s decision and article was a “remarkable intervention”, according to Johnny Patterson, director of the human rights NGO Hong Kong Watch.
“It is a watershed moment in Sino-British relations. No sitting PM has made a statement as bold as this on Hong Kong since the handover,” said Patterson.
Hundred detained through national security law
Since the national security law went into effect Tuesday evening, Hong Kong authorities arrested at least 10 people, including a 15-year old girl who caught waving a Hong Kong independence flag. They also detained roughly 400 people on Wednesday on varying charges such as unlawful assembly as thousands protested against the law.
China’s passing of the law concerns Hong Kong residents and human rights advocates who fear that China will use the legislation to arrest protesters and pro-democracy advocates.
Martin Lee, a barrister, former legislator, and co-drafter of the basic law, Hong Kong’s post-1997 constitution, said that Beijing breached its treaty obligations, as laid out in the handover of Hong Kong in 1997. According to Lee, the then Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping wanted to have the declaration supported by the international community and registered in the United Nations to ensure Hong Kong’s elite residents and businesses would stay.
Lee called for more interventions by the international community. He said, “so I want more, and I want the international community to put their heads together and come up with a multinational sustainable solution for Hong Kong.”
On Thursday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that his country considers providing “safe haven visas” to Hong Kong residents in danger under the new law. Morrison said Australia is “prepared to step up and provide support.”
China’s Foreign Ministry released a statement urging Australia to keep out of China’s internal affairs.