In reaction to a new law giving the Chinese government extensive powers over Hong Kong, PM Boris Johnson offered residents an opportunity to settle in the United Kingdom. The gesture was a welcome show of leadership amid half-hearted reactions in the West.
Beijing’s new security law for the autonomous Hong Kong area will infringe civil rights and further curb freedom. According to the United Kingdom, it is a clear breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984, which was the basis for the transfer of the former Crown Colony to China. The region’s autonomy was guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” clause of the agreement. Hong Kong was then handed back to the Chinese government on July 1, 1997.
The “one country, two systems” arrangement benefited Hong Kong. Its rise as an independent financial center also boosted the Middle Kingdom’s economic progress. However, the situation was still a bitter pill for Beijing to swallow. Hong Kong had been ceded to the UK under military pressure at the end of the First Opium War in the 19th century. China quite understandably considered this a national dishonor. It was therefore to be expected that it would eventually violate the agreement.
The Chinese government had been trying for some time to erode Hong Kong’s autonomy through salami tactics. In March 2019, the city’s inhabitants responded with widespread demonstrations. The authorities, which report to Beijing, struggled to keep the protests under control. To rein in the opposition and allow security forces from mainland China to enter, Beijing passed the security law.
The new legislation clearly contravenes the 1984 Sino-British agreement.
However, the legislation clearly contravenes the 1984 Sino-British agreement. The majority of Hong Kong residents support the autonomous status granted in the declaration, which lends it democratic legitimacy. The Hong Kongese are committed to preserving their freedom and the British system of law and governance. The United States reacted by including Hong Kong in the sanctions already imposed on mainland China. The European Commission issued an apathetic warning.
The political and military balance of power has reversed since the opium wars. The European Union and Britain do not have the clout to prevent China from resorting to force. Furthermore, judging from the Ukraine crisis, neither the European Union nor its member states are willing to make courageous decisions.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government, on the other hand, have shown their decisiveness. They demonstrated strength by taking the only honorable measure in their power: offering to welcome the three million citizens of Hong Kong by allowing them to settle in the UK and apply for citizenship. Although Beijing might try to interfere with emigration, the gesture shows resolve and acumen.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government have shown their decisiveness.
To the extent that it can, London wants to fulfill its obligations to the people of its former colony. But the measure could also have a positive effect in the UK. Unlike migrants who want the benefits of welfare, but do not accept and respect the local culture, traditions and customs in their host country, newcomers from Hong Kong would value British society. The Hong Kongese are known to be assiduous, diligent and hardworking. Their aspiration to freedom and financial independence would likely give a boost to the UK’s economy.
Beijing’s strong reaction indicates that the offer is effective, even though the Chinese Communist Party might try to restrict emigration, like the countries under Soviet leadership did during the period of the Iron Curtain. Nevertheless, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab have given the world an example of leadership.