UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said China’s imposition of a new security law in Hong Kong constituted a clear and serious breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration signed in 1984 and aimed at smoothing the transition when the territory was handed back to Beijing in 1997.
The UK believes that Beijing’s move violates Hong Kong’s autonomy, threatens the freedoms and rights protected by the joint declaration, and is in direct conflict with the territory’s Basic Law, its mini-constitution.
Addressing the media on Wednesday, Johnson said: “We have made clear that if China continued down this path, we would introduce a new route to those with British National (Overseas) status to enter the UK granting them limited leave to remain with the ability to live and work in the UK and thereafter to apply for citizenship, and that is precisely what we will do now.”
Describing the Chinese move as “a grave and deeply disturbing step”, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab promised that UK would honour its commitment to the people of Hong Kong.
“We will grant BN(O)s five years’ limited leave to remain, with the right to work or study. After these five years, they will be able to apply for settled status.
“After further 12 months with settled status, they will be able to apply for citizenship. This is a special, bespoke, set of arrangements developed for the unique circumstances we face,” Raab told MPs.
Raab did not set out any plan to sanction China or individual Chinese officials through new legislation due to be introduced by the Foreign Office this month.
He also said he was hopeful that other countries in south-east Asia would also offer asylum to Hong Kong citizens wanting to leave.
“China has broken its promise to the people of Hong Kong under its own laws. China has breached its international obligations to the UK under the joint declaration.”
Hong Kong’s autonomy, which now faces threat from Beijing’s imposition of a new security laws, was guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” agreement of the 1984 joint declaration signed by the then Chinese premier, Zhao Ziyang, and British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.
The Foreign Office said: “There are 349,881 holders of BN(O) passports and the government estimates there are around 2.9m BN(O)s currently in Hong Kong. The scheme is for eligible BN(O) status holders and their immediate family dependants.”
The Democrats-led US House of Representatives has approved new Hong Kong-related sanctions, after Beijing imposed a security law for the city that has been condemned by countries around the world.
The Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which was passed unanimously late Wednesday, imposes sanctions on banks that do business with Chinese officials who are involved in cracking down on pro-democracy protesters in the city, the BBC reported.
“The law is a brutal, sweeping crackdown against the people of Hong Kong, intended to destroy the freedoms they were promised,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
She added that the law was an “urgently needed response to (China’s passing) of its so-called ‘national security’ law… which is purpose built to dismantle democratic freedoms in Hong Kong”.
Before the bill was signed, the US had already began eliminating Hong Kong’s special status – halting defence exports and restricting the territory’s access to high-technology products.
Last year, the US had also signed into law the Human Rights and Democracy Act, supporting pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.
China’s security law , which came into effect on Tuesday night, It lists four categories of offences – secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with a foreign country or external elements to endanger national security.
The maximum penalty for each crime is life imprisonment, although the suggested sentence for some minor offences is less than three years’ imprisonment.
Suspects can be extradited to mainland China in cases that involve “complicated situations” of interference by foreign forces; cases in which the local government cannot effectively enforce the law and ones where national security is under “serious and realistic threats”.