British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, writing in The Times of London, said Wednesday that he would propose a major change in the country’s visa system, allowing for nearly 3 million people from Hong Kong to seek residence in the United Kingdom.
Johnson’s column added that this move was a response to China’s national security law in Hong Kong, and is certain to escalate tensions between the UK and China.
China’s national security law would overturn provisions in Hong Kong’s Basic Law, allowing Chinese state agencies to directly exercise control over matters of security. This, in effect, would give mainland China greater authority to crack down on the protests that have been going on in Hong Kong for over a year. (RELATED: The Hong Kong Security Law Would Suppress Criticism Of China As Beijing Buys Global Silence)
Around 350,000 Hong Kong residents currently hold British National Overseas (BNO) passports, and around 2.5 million people are eligible to apply. The passports were created after the 1997 handover of Hong Kong from the UK to China, and Johnson’s proposal would allow anyone with a BNO passport to come to the UK and apply for full British citizenship, The Telegraph reported.
The proposed policy would be one of the biggest changes to the British visa system in its history, expanding on an initial proposal made last week by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to allow asylum petitions from BNO passport holders. Johnson’s column, however, doesn’t address how difficult obtaining British citizenship would be, the New York Times reported.
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian denounced Johnson’s proposal during a press conference Wednesday, accusing the UK of having a “Cold War & colonial mindset.”
Hong Kong residents have enjoyed unprecedented rights and freedoms since Hong Kong’s return to motherland. We urge the UK side to “step back from the brink”, abandon Cold War & colonial mindset, and stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs and other China’s internal affairs. pic.twitter.com/wNjf2gNdIY
— Spokesperson发言人办公室 (@MFA_China) June 3, 2020
However, the UK appears willing to stand up to China over its encroachment on Hong Kong’s autonomy. “Many people in Hong Kong fear their way of life, which China pledged to uphold, is under threat,” Johnson wrote. “If China proceeds to justify their fears, then Britain could not in good conscience shrug our shoulders and walk away.”