Boris Johnson vows historic overhaul of visa system to accommodate Hongkongers
Prime minister says if Beijing acts, Britain will have "no choice but to uphold our profound ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong"
/NOVOSTIVL/ British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised Hongkongers “one of the biggest changes in our visa system in British history” if Beijing pushes through the national security law, he wrote in an op-ed published in the South China Morning Post and The Times of London on Wednesday. This article appeared in SCMP.
In his first direct message to the former British colony amid the recent political furore, Johnson acknowledged that “many people in Hong Kong fear their way of life … is under threat” since the National People’s Congress proposed the law last month.
“If China proceeds to justify their fears, then Britain could not in good conscience shrug our shoulders and walk away; instead we will honour our obligations and provide an alternative,” Johnson said. “Britain would … have no choice but to uphold our profound ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong.”
Under the new British government plan – which will be put in place when Beijing formally enacts the law – every one of the 3 million Hongkongers who qualify for a British National (Overseas) passport and their dependents could relocate to the United Kingdom to stay and work or study for extendable periods of 12 months, creating a path to citizenship.
“This would amount to one of the biggest changes in our visa system in British history,” Johnson said. “If it proves necessary, the British government will take this step and take it willingly.”
According to Johnson, Beijing’s moves on Hong Kong are in contradiction to what makes the city successful, and fall short of the standard expected of China’s increasingly important role in the international community.
“Hong Kong succeeds because its people are free. They can pursue their dreams and scale as many heights as their talents allow,” he said. The new law, however, would “curtail its freedoms and dramatically erode its autonomy”.
“I also struggle to understand how the latest measure might ease tensions in Hong Kong,” Johnson said. “I still hope that China will remember that responsibilities go hand in glove with strength and leadership. As China plays a greater role on the international stage – commensurate with its economic prowess – then its authority will rest not simply on its global weight but on its reputation for fair dealing and magnanimity.”
Johnson also hit back at what he called Beijing’s “false allegations – such as claiming that the UK somehow organised the protests”, or attempts to cast doubt over the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which London says is a legally binding international treaty, a claim that Beijing denies.
Amid roaring demands for readjusting British-China relations among his Conservative Party members, Johnson attempted to convey a message of calmness and reassurance to Beijing.
“Britain does not seek to prevent China’s rise,” he said. “On the contrary we will work side-by-side on all the issues where our interests converge, from trade to climate change. We want a modern and mature relationship, based on mutual respect and recognising China’s place in the world.”