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Britain may offer ‘path to citizenship’ to 2.9m Hong Kong residents

Saturday, 30 May 2020 7:31 AM  [ Last Update: Saturday, 30 May 2020 7:31 AM ]

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab arrives in Downing street in central London on May 28, 2020. (Photo by AFP)

British officials have announced plans to offer extensive visa rights and a pathway to citizenship to nearly 3 million people in Britain’s former colony of Hong Kong in reaction to a national security law approved by the Chinese city’s legislative council.

The development came after Hong Kong’s legislature debated and passed the Beijing-proposed bill on Wednesday that criminalizes sedition, secession and subversion against the mainland. It would further pave the way for Chinese national security institutions to operate in the city for the first time since 1997, when Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese rule.

The bill also requires that China’s national anthem — known as “March of the Volunteers” — be taught in schools and sung by organizations, and imposes jail terms or fines against those who disrespect it.

After UK’s Foreign minister Dominic Raab declared Thursday that London would move to extend the rights of 350,000 ‘British National Overseas’ (BNO) passport holders if Beijing enacts the law, the interior ministry further announced on Friday that the policy would apply to all BNOs residing in Hong Kong — around 2.9 million, according to British government figures.

“If China imposes this law, we will explore options to allow British Nationals Overseas to apply for leave to stay in the UK, including a path to citizenship,” British Home Secretary Priti Patel asserted in a statement, adding, “We will continue to defend the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong.”

However, Beijing insists the new bill – due to become law by September – does not pose a threat to the financial hub city’s autonomy and the interests of foreign investors, noting that it is merely meant to prevent terrorism and foreign interference there, as was evident in violent, Western-backed protest rallies there against the mainland.

Britain, the US, Australia, Canada and the European Union have all sharply censured the recently-approved law in Hong Kong despite repeated warnings by China that Hong Kong is a purely Chinese internal affair.

While critics claim that it represents an instance of Beijing’s intrusion into the autonomous city, supporters insist Hong Kong is duty-bound to ensure national symbols are treated respectfully.

The opponents also assert that the security law could bring an end to the autonomy of Hong Kong, guaranteed under a policy known as “one country, two systems” – a claim firmly rejected by Beijing and the city’s local government.

North Korea backs China’s measures on Hong Kong

North Korea on Saturday expressed its support for the newly-approved law in Hong Kong, calling it a “legitimate step” to safeguard China’s security interests.

“Since Hong Kong issue is an issue pertaining thoroughly to the internal affairs of China, any country or force has no rights to say this or that about the issue,” said a North Korean foreign ministry official as cited by the country’s official KCNA news agency.

“We categorically oppose and reject the outside interference detrimental to the security and the social and economic development of Hong Kong,” he added.

US threatens China with strong response

On Tuesday, US President Donald Trump told reporters that Washington would announce before the end of the week a strong response to the anticipated security law for Hong Kong, but did not elaborate.

Responding to a question on whether the response would include anti-China sanctions, Trump merely said, “No, it’s something you’re going to be hearing about… before the end of the week, very powerfully, I think.”

US-based press reports on Friday also indicated that Trump will make an announcement regarding China and the recent events in Hong Kong.

Also on Tuesday, Trump’s economic adviser Larry Kudlow emphasized that China was making “a big mistake” by introducing the security bill and vowed that the US government would pay expenses for American firms that wanted to shift operations from Hong Kong or China.

Beijing rejects US interference

On Thursday, China dismissed US attempts at the United Nations to have the UN Security Council (UNSC) hold a meeting over Beijing’s proposed national security law for Hong Kong, emphasizing that the issue was an internal matter.

During a UNSC meeting on Wednesday, US and Chinese envoys traded barbs over the imposition of the law on the semi-autonomous Chinese city.

China “categorically rejects the baseless request” because the national security legislation for Hong Kong was an internal matter and “has nothing to do with the mandate of the Security Council,” China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun said later on Twitter.

Also on Wednesday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian emphasized during a daily press briefing that Beijing would take necessary countermeasures against any foreign meddling in Hong Kong’s legislative process on the security legislation.

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