China threatens ‘corresponding measures’ after Boris Johnson says three million Hong Kongers can come to Britain
Demonstrators gather during a banned protest in Hong Kong. (Credit: ZUMA Wire)
China has threatened to block Boris Johnson’s move to offer citizenship to almost three million Hong Kong residents amid a row over the imposition of a controversial new security law there.
The Chinese embassy in London said it “firmly” opposed the plan to make it easier for people in Hong Kong to come to the UK to live and work.
The move came after what Mr Johnson called “a clear and serious breach” of China’s commitment to protect the freedoms of those living in Hong Kong by pushing ahead with a controversial new security law.
The Government has promised to boost rights for British National Overseas (BNO) passport holders in Hong Kong following the introduction of legislation which clamps down on secession, subversion and terrorism in the former British colony.
The Foreign Office said a new immigration route would now allow people to come to the UK without the existing six-month limit, granting them five years limited leave to remain followed by the chance to apply for citizenship.
But China’s ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaming on Thursday said 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”.
And he warned: “If the British side makes unilateral changes to the relevant practice, it will breach its own position and pledges as well as international law.”
The ambassador added: ”We firmly oppose this and reserve the right to take corresponding measures.
“The UK has no sovereignty, jurisdiction or right of ‘supervision’ over Hong Kong.”
Speaking on Wednesday night, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab acknowledged that there would be “little that we could do” to “coercively force” China to allow Hong Kong’s residents to come to the UK.
“But I think China is sensitive to the damage it's doing to its reputation,” he told ITV’s Peston.
The Cabinet minister added: “There is an issue around freedom, human rights in Hong Kong, and there is an issue around China keeping its word on the international obligation it made to the United Kingdom back in 1984.
“So I wouldn't want to be naive about this, I think we need to be realistic, but I do think China as a rising leading member of the international community is sensitive to the reputational risk in all of this.”
Mr Raab said it was “difficult to give precise forecasts” of how many people would be likely to take up the offer to come to the UK and said “the majority of people would probably either hunker down in Hong Kong, and others would move to other countries in the region”.
“But for us it's a point of principle. We want to live up to our commitments to the people of Hong Kong, and whilst China has failed to live up to its responsibilities in relation to the autonomy and the freedoms of the people of Hong Kong, we will stick by ours."
Mr Johnson on Wednesday said the new law in Hong Kong stood “in direct conflict with Hong Kong basic law”.
He warned: “The law also threatens the freedom and rights protected by the joint declaration.“
The Sino-British joint declaration seals the agreement that saw the UK hand Hong Kong back to China in 1997, and was intended to protect its “one country, two systems” government that has previously allowed[ a high degree of autonomy from Beijing.
The new legislation has been condemned by western countries including the UK and the US.
But the ambassador Liu said Beijing “categorically rejected the unwarranted accusations” and accused the UK of making “wrong remarks and deeds”.
“The national security law for Hong Kong... is timely, necessary and reasonable,” he said. “This is the fundamental solution that will end the chaos and restore order in Hong Kong.”