On Sunday, the UK government launched a new visa scheme designed to provide a route to citizenship for holders of British National (Overseas) status in Hong Kong at a time when democracy and human rights are under unprecedented pressure from the Chinese regime in the former British colony.
The system, first announced last July following Beijing’s implementation of Hong Kong’s stringent national security law, requires BN(O) status holders to live, study and work for five years in the United Kingdom and apply for citizenship.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “proud” that the new scheme had been implemented.
“We have valued our deep history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong by doing so, and that we have stood up for freedom and autonomy, values that are dear to both the united kingdom and Hong Kong ,” he said during a statement released on Friday.
The Chinese regime retaliated the same day by announcing that it would stop accepting BN(O) passports on Sunday as travel and identification papers.
In response, Britain was “disappointed but not surprised” by Beijing’s move, the UK’s foreign office said.
“BN(O)s and their families will be able to use documentation other than BN(O) passports to take up this visa despite China’s announcement,” said a spokesperson for the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office of Britain.
The national security law, which came into effect on June 30, 2020, criminalizes individuals with a largest sentence of life imprisonment for any acts of subversion, secession, and collusion with foreign powers against the Chinese Communist Party.
On July 1, after declaring the law “constitutes a transparent and high breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration,” Johnson made the visa offer to Hong Kong residents because it “violates Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and is in direct conflict with Hong Kong’s basic law.”
“We’ve made it clear that we’re not going to look the other way when it comes to Hong Kong,” British Secretary of State Dominic Raab said on Friday. “We will live up to our historic duty to the people.”
On Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry Speaker Zhao Lijian blasted the British government, saying it “breaches the sovereignty of China, interferes with Hong Kong and China’s internal affairs, and violates international law and the fundamental norms of international relations.”
“Hong Kong people are, as a generalization, entrepreneurial, dynamic, creative, educated people with a lot of initiative,”
“They are people who share the same values as we do in the United Kingdom, the values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”
Although they will need some help to settle down, he believes that Hong Kong people will boost Britain’s economy in the long run.