Following the announcement of the British National (Overseas) visa, many people have raised the question as to whether the United Kingdom should be doing more to protect the freedoms of Hong Kongers, as well as keeping them safe. The new immigration route came as a response to the Chinese Government’s most recent imposition of national security law on Hong Kong, which further threatens the democratic lifestyles of the people living in the city-state.
In a statement to Parliament about what the UK is doing to further support the people of Hong Kong, Dominic Raab said, “We are [now] taking two further measures, which are a necessary and proportionate response to this new national security legislation, which we have now had the opportunity to assess very carefully.
“First, given the role China has now assumed for the internal security of Hong Kong, and the authority it is exerting over law enforcement, the UK will extend to Hong Kong the arms embargo that we have applied to mainland China since 1989. To be clear the extension of this embargo means there will be no exports from the UK to Hong Kong, of potentially lethal weapons, their components or ammunition. It will also mean a ban on the export of any equipment not already banned, which might be used for internal repression, such as shackles, intercept equipment, firearms, and smoke grenades.
“The second measure relates to the fact that the imposition of the National Security Law has significantly changed key assumptions underpinning our extradition treaty arrangements with Hong Kong. And I have to say that I am particularly concerned about Articles 55 to 59 of the law, which gives mainland Chinese authorities the ability to assume jurisdiction over certain cases and try those cases in mainland Chinese courts.
“The National Security Law does not provide legal or judicial safeguards in such cases, and I am also concerned about the potential reach of the extra-territorial provisions. So, I have consulted with the Home Secretary, the Justice Secretary and the Attorney General, and the government has decided to suspend the extradition treaty immediately and indefinitely. There remains considerable uncertainty about the way in which the new national security law will be enforced. I will just say this, The United Kingdom is watching. And the whole world is watching.”
However, not everyone is convinced that the new measures are enough to stop China from infringing on the rights of Hong Kongers. Luke de Pulford, of Hong Kong Watch and World Uyghur Congress (UK) said that mass disqualifications of democratic candidates in Hong Kong is “another hammer-blow to Hong Kong’s autonomy. ‘Lifeboat’ policies have clearly been inadequate to curb Beijing’s bullying. It’s time for coordinated sanctions.”
De Pulford told Eat News, “[The] UK needs to move beyond lifeboat policies which do nothing to punish Beijing for its bullying behaviour in Hong Kong and disregard for international human rights law. We should be looking at coordinated economic sanctions with our allies. Unless Beijing’s bottom line starts to suffer because of this behaviour, they’re unlikely to change their approach.”
Immigration and human rights lawyer, Perseus told Eat News, “I’m not so sure about the UK only wanting to appear to help, especially with the decision to cut Huawei, and with China responding with refusing to recognise BN(O).
“But of course, simply helping BN(O) can be construed as a very limited pool of people, especially when the feeling is that the whole the Hong Kong is in trouble.”
Hong Kong police made their first major arrests under the new national security law on 30th July 2020 when they detained four students aged 16 to 21 on suspicion of “inciting secession.” The police say the students made comments on social media that encouraged Hong Kong’s independence.
Chinese Video Journalist, Pak Yiu, documented a statement made by Senior Superintendent of the National Security Department, Li Kwai-wah, to the media after the arrest. “Li says they were arrested based on what they did AFTER July 1 – the social media post in question was about forming a new party that wanted to fight for Hong Kong independence.”
Raab announced the BN(O) visa route will be ready by early 2021, and will allow BN(O)s from Hong Kong to come to the UK beyond the current 6-month limit, granting them 5 years limited leave to remain, with the ability to live and work in the UK. After these 5 years, they will be able to apply for settled status and, after a further 12 months with that status, apply for citizenship. In the meantime, the Home Secretary has given Border Force Officers the ability to grant leave to BN(O)s and their accompanying dependants at the UK border.
Speaking on the new visa, Home Secretary, Priti Patel said, “China’s decision to impose national security legislation on Hong Kong is deeply regrettable. Now China have imposed this law we will launch a new immigration route for British Nationals (Overseas) and their families. The UK has a historic and moral obligation to British Nationals (Overseas) in Hong Kong and we will honour our commitment to them.”
Raab concurred, “I can reassure the House, that we will continue to take a leading role in engaging and coordinating our actions with our international partners, as befits our historic commitment to the people of Hong Kong.”
Since the four students and children were arrested in Hong Kong under China’s new law, 17 UK member of Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China have signed a letter expressing their concerns and requesting Dominic Raab to impose further sanctions on China.
It is predicted that an estimated 300,000 people currently residing in Hong Kong will be eligible for the BN(O) visa, which begs the question: what happens to the millions who are not?