The enforcement of a sweeping national security law in Hong Kong by China has drawn sharp reactions from several countries, and led to the announcement of a range of countermeasures: from offering city residents a pathway to citizenship, to imposing economic sanctions and suspending treaties.
The new law, passed “unanimously” by the Chinese parliament and put into effect on June 30, creates four widely defined offences — secession, subversion, organisation and perpetration of terrorist activities, and collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security.
Prepared in secret and promulgated without consulting Hong Kong’s legislature, the law blurs the distinction between the legal systems of semi-autonomous Hong Kong, which maintained aspects of British law after the 1997 handover, and the mainland’s authoritarian Communist Party system.
Here’s a look at some of the major proposals put forth by countries who have taken exception to China’s move.
Since 1992, Washington had provided Hong Kong with a “special status” by enacting the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act that year. Under the Act, the US treated Hong Kong as a non-sovereign entity distinct from mainland China, and implemented a separate set of policies that included providing preferential tariff rates for exports from the city-state.
In November 2019, the US Congress passed legislation allowing the president to chip away at the special status in case Hong Kong is believed to be “not sufficiently autonomous” from Beijing.
This year in May, after China first revealed its designs for imposing a security law, the Trump administration notified the US Congress that it no longer considered Hong Kong as autonomous from mainland China. On June 29, a day before the law was passed, it began eliminating the city’s special status, suspending the availability of export license exceptions.
After the law was passed, US lawmakers approved imposing economic sanctions, penalising banks that do business with Chinese officials. According to Bloomberg Intelligence, the move potentially threatens up to $1.1 trillion in Chinese funding, while also inviting steep fines.
Visa restrictions have been announced against Chinese Communist Party officials “believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy”. Washington is also ending defence equipment sales to Hong Kong (used by its police), and selling sensitive American technology to the city has also been made more difficult.
The United Kingdom
Hong Kong’s former imperial master has promised 30 lakh of its residents a chance to migrate and eventually apply for British citizenship. 3.5 lakh persons holding British National (Overseas) passports and around 26 lakh others would be eligible in the city of around 70 lakh people.
In a major expansion of their rights, BN(O) holders would be able to live and work in the UK for 5 years. There would be no minimum salary requirement, and neither would it be necessary to first secure a job in the UK before migrating.
Prime Minister Boris Boris Johnson called the imposition of the security law “a serious and clear breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration”, and foreign secretary Dominic Raab said his country would not duck its “historic responsibilities” to the people of Hong Kong.
The Economist called the UK move its most generous welcoming of foreign workers since the entry of new EU citizens in 2004 — when 10 countries were added to the bloc. Its report, however, said that relatively fewer numbers from the city-state would come to Britain if they have other options, such as Australia.
While the country is yet to make an announcement on providing asylum, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said Australia is “actively considering” offering a safe passage to Hong Kong residents.
So far, it has offered a 5-year visa extension for Hong Kongers, providing the chance of acquiring permanent residency for around 10,000 people. Morrison said the offer also extended to Hong Kong businesses if they wanted to relocate to Australia.
The country has suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong, and issued new warnings to over 1 lakh of its nationals who are in the city.
In recent months, relations between Australia and China have soured after Morrison asked for an independent inquiry into the origins of the novel coronavirus in Wuhan. China subsequently imposed tariffs on Australian barley shipments.
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that Canada is also exploring measures around immigration. Like Australia, Canada also suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong.
Additionally, Ottawa has banned the export of sensitive military technology to Hong Kong, home to 3 lakh Canadian nationals.
China-Canada relations had hit a setback in 2018, when Canadian police arrested the financial officer of Huawei Technologies on a US warrant.
Taiwan, which is claimed entirely by China, has relaxed its Covid-19 border closures to enable people from Hong Kong to enter. It has also opened a government office to help Hong Kong residents visit or seek legal residency on the island.
Taipei has so far acted cautiously, and not made any announcements on offering asylum, lest it further upsets Beijing– whose officials rail against a conspiracy between democracy activists in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Not many from Hong Kong are expected to migrate here, given Taiwan’s precarious relation with China, and because of better opportunities in the West.
Yet, the number of migrants from Hong Kong is growing. According to The Economist, until May this year, Taiwan had given residency permits to 2,383 Hong Kongers, up 150 per cent from the same period last year.
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