Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab attacked Beijing for trying to “violate” the former British colony’s autonomy and freedom. Protestors took to the streets again after the Chinese parliament backed security legislation that would make it a crime to undermine the regime’s authority in the territory. Mr Raab joined forces with counterparts in Australia, Canada and the US to put pressure on China to find a “mutually acceptable” resolution with Hong Kong.
He said the UK will change the status of 300,000 British national overseas passport holders in Hong Kong if the law is implemented to increase their right to stay in Britain without a visa from six months to one year.
“If enacted, this law would violate Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms. The UK, US, Australia and Canada are deeply concerned,” Mr Raab said.
“If China goes down this path and implements this national security legislation, we will be required to change the status of BN(O) passport holders and set in train arrangements which allow them to come to the UK for longer than the current six month period and to apply for extendable periods of 12 months to work and study, which itself will provide a pathway to citizenship.”
The bill – which now passes to China’s senior leadership – has caused deep concern among those who say it could end Hong Kong’s unique status.
It could also see China installing its own security agencies in the region for the first time.
The move has already sparked a new wave of anti-mainland protest.
The National People’s Congress (NPC) – meeting in Beijing after a two-month delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic – backed the new security bill resolution with 2,878 votes in favour, one against and six abstentions.
“It will uphold and improve the ‘one country, two systems’ policy,” NPC chairman Li Zhanshu told delegates during the closing ceremony.
“It is in line with the constitution and Hong Kong’s Basic Law and is in the interest of all Chinese people including Hong Kong people.”
Protesters were back on the streets in the territory yesterday but without the violence of a day earlier.
Clashes broke out on Wednesday as Hong Kong’s parliament debated a different proposed law, which would make it a crime to disrespect the Chinese national anthem.
Hundreds of people were arrested in protests over that and the security law.
Security remained high yesterday as a tense debate in the Legislative Council continued.
And at least two pro-democracy legislators were ejected from the council.
One lawmaker, Ted Hui, threw rotten plants on to the floor of the chamber,
saying it symbolised the decay of Hong Kong’s political system.
“I want the speaker to feel what is meant by rotten,” he said.
The speaker deemed the package to be an “unknown dangerous object”, and called police and fire crews.
Hours before the bill was passed in China, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said developments in Hong Kong meant it could no longer be considered to have “a high degree of autonomy” from mainland China.
That meant that Hong Kong no longer merited being treated differently from the mainland under US law.
The declaration could have major implications for Hong Kong’s trade hub status and is likely to anger Beijing.