Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Tuesday that he would offer millions of Hong Kong residents passports and possible access to British citizenship if China continues to impose its national security law on the territory.
“Many people in Hong Kong fear that their way of life – which China is committed to maintaining – will be threatened” by this law, Johnson said in an article for The London Times and the South China Morning Post.
“If China goes ahead and justifies these fears, Britain will not be able in conscience to shrug its shoulders and move on; on the contrary, we will honor our obligations and provide an alternative,” assured Mr. Johnson.
Some 350,000 people in Hong Kong currently hold the “British Overseas Passport,” which provides visa-free access to Britain for stays of up to six months, said Johnson.
An additional 2.5 million people would be eligible to apply for this document, which was issued to residents of the former British colony when it was returned to China in 1997.
Adopted by the Chinese People’s National Assembly (PNA) but not finalized, the national security law provides for punishing separatist, “terrorist” activities, subversion, or even foreign interference in the Chinese autonomous territory.
Decided by Beijing after a wave of protests for freedoms in Hong Kong, the law has caused an international outcry and renewed unrest in this autonomous territory of southern China.
Opponents of Beijing’s influence in the territory say the measure paves the way for an unprecedented regression of freedoms in the financial metropolis of 7 million inhabitants.
However, Beijing made a commitment during the handover to guarantee Hong Kong broad autonomy and freedoms according to the “one country, two systems” principle.
“If China imposes its national security law, the British government will amend its immigration laws and allow any holder of these passports residing in Hong Kong to come to the United Kingdom for a renewable period of 12 months and get other rights, including the right to work, which would put them on the path to citizenship, “wrote Boris Johnson.
The imposition of the security law in Hong Kong “would restrict his freedoms and reduce his autonomy substantially,” said the British Prime Minister.
British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab urged Beijing to back down on Tuesday. “There is still time for China to think, move away from the precipice and respect Hong Kong’s autonomy and its own obligations and its obligations. international obligations “, said Raab before the Parliament.
But Mr. Johnson’s personal intervention significantly increased London’s pressure on Beijing.