Number 10 stands by vow to open up citizenship to Hong Kong residents as China warns of ‘countermeasures’
The UK has said it is ‘deeply concerned about China's plan to impose national security legislation on Hong Kong’.
The UK Government is sticking to its threat to give greater rights to people in Hong Kong unless China rethinks a controversial new security bill.
Number 10 on Friday called on Beijing to “reconsider” sweeping anti-sedition laws aimed at cracking down on protests in the city-state, despite China warning of “countermeasures” against the UK.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has promised to boost rights for British National Overseas (BNO) passport holders in Hong Kong in response to the new legislation, which follows almost a year of protests by pro-democracy activists.
Under current rules, the more than 340,000 BNO passport holders are able to travel to Britain for six months without a visa, but they do not have the right to live and work in the UK.
Mr Raab has promised to allow them to do so for extendable 12-month periods if China does not "step back" from the clampdown - and said the move “would itself provide a pathway to future citizenship”.
But China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Friday warned countries that Hong Kong was “purely an internal Chinese matter”, and said: “No other country has the right to interfere."
And he said of the UK proposal: "All such BNO passport holders are Chinese nationals and if the UK insists on changing this practice it will not only violate its own stance but also international law.”
He added: “We firmly oppose this and reserve the right to take countermeasures.”
Hitting back, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson said: “We have urged China to reconsider the implementation of this law and live up to its responsibilities as a leading member of the international community.
“We hope they will listen carefully to the arguments we have made in public and in private about the impact which Beijing’s proposal would have on Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity.”
And they added: “We are deeply concerned about China's plan to impose national security legislation on Hong Kong and we are urging China to reconsider the implementation of this law.
“As we said in a joint statement with the United States, Canada and Australia yesterday the legislation risks undermining the principles of ‘one country two systems’ and curtailing the freedoms that China has undertaken to uphold as a matter of international law.”
The spokesperson meanwhile warned that if China “continues down this path” then the UK will look to amend arrangements for BNO passport holders.
China has said the legislation, which clamps down on subversion and foreign interference, is needed in the wake of heated clashes that have taken place in Hong Kong over the past year.
The law is expected to include measures to allow Beijing to set up intelligence agencies in Hong Kong, which is a former British colony and is subject to a joint agreement between the UK and China which preserves its differing economic and governing systems.