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How and why Britain must be Hong Kong’s escape route
The world has witnessed a repetition of history on the streets of Hong Kong. Yet another episode showing the Chinese regime will stop at nothing in pursuit of eroding liberty. It is time for Britain to take a stand and provide an escape route for Hong Kong's citizens.
Less than a year ago, in October 2019, the Extradition Bill was thrown out after the executive bowed to the pressure of spiralling violence and lengthy protests, heralded as a victory against the central machine - it hasn’t lasted. Whilst the world had its back turned to focus on defeating coronavirus, China has played the next card in its ongoing mission for a stranglehold of the semi-autonomous region.
This has manifested as the ‘National Security Law’, which envisages the setup of Chinese intelligence bases across the territory to be used to garner information, a roadmap to quash actions defined as ‘secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference’. The backlash seen last year would not only be eliminated legally, but so would other criticism, questioning or any speech that the Chinese Government deems as undesirable.
For anyone who believes in personal liberty, this matters. For those of us living in the United Kingdom, this should matter even more. As the co-signatory of the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1997, the British Government, along with the Chinese Government, promised little to no alterations of their rights and situation after the handover took place. In particular, Paragraph 3, Section 5 of the Declaration stated chiefly that the current “lifestyle will remain unchanged” and that “Rights and freedoms, including those […], of speech, of assembly, of association, will be ensured by law.”
The new security law is a wilfully flagrant violation of promises that were due to be kept for 50 years, as part of the ‘One country, two systems’ principle and the right of freedom of expression under Article 19 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. The law contravenes Article 23 of Hong Kong Basic Law, authorising the region to “enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason”, affirming legislation should be created by Hong Kong’s own institutions as opposed to Beijing’s authorities.
Evidently, the continued disregard for the Joint-Declaration by the Chinese administration isn’t going to dissipate. It has been a welcomed development seeing many of the world’s democratic nations, namely the UK, US, Australia, and Canada coming together in a united front to ensure these draconian measures aren’t delivered with impunity. UK Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab announced that the current 6-month permit to reside in the UK for the 300,000 British National Overseas (BNO) passport holders in Hong Kong may be furthered to extendable periods of 12 months, with a possible path to citizenship. More has to be done urgently.
Due to the timeliness of the situation, the British Government must immediately offer full citizenship and residence rights to the BHO passport holders, and then seek to provide this for all 3 million individuals in the region (many of which hold a lapsed BHO passport.) Not only would this provide Hongkongers with the option of a direct alternative to living under Chinese government oppression, but it could prove to be an effective pushback to Beijing with the fear of their important and flourishing financial hub being crippled thanks to a mass exodus of people, destabilising the regional economy.
In comparison to the measures announced by Raab, this would explicitly pledge Britain as an amnesty for as long as necessary.
Last year, the Chinese Ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming instructed Britain to keep her “colonial” hands off Hong Kong. This week, he stated on Twitter that these were purely “internal affairs” in China. The simple truth is that Britain is morally obliged to act, and these are not internal affairs. Britain has a unique position as a vested interest in the protection of the Hong Kongese people, amplified by a clear violation of the UN backed Joint-Agreement of 1997. The affairs of Hong Kong are administered by international treaty. Rather than unnecessary meddling in foreign affairs, the UK’s involvement is warranted in order to fulfil promises to defend the interests of freedom of her former people.
Arguably, there might be some concern amongst British natives about an immigration influx soon after the decision to leave the EU, of which immigration was a huge factor; however, the justification remains. Doing anything but granting asylum to those promised protection two decades ago would be morally reprehensible – the same welcome should be given in a similar vein to refugees during World War Two, Hungarians facing tyranny in 1950s and Asian Ugandans expelled by Amin in 1972.
The Chinese Administration has stated that this new legislation is necessary to tackle the quasi-threat of terrorism and sedition in the area. The reality is that the only threat to Hong Kong is China itself. The Joint Declaration grants the United Kingdom the ability to act as a hurdle between the odious apparatus of Beijing and the beacon of hope that Hong Kong has become. Britain must rise to the occasion to ensure Hongkongers are provided with the escape route they deserve.
Alexander Willis is currently an Undergraduate Politics and International Relations student at University College London and a member of the PSA. Before university he sat on the advisory panel for the Independent Office for Police Conduct, and served as Member of Youth Parliament for Newport in South Wales. Image credit: Wikipedia Commons.