Hong Kong’s National Security Law came into effect on June 30, 2020. Since then, the UK government has been taking steps to support Hongkongers as Beijing continues efforts to put an end to the open, democratic nature of the city.
After the security law was imposed, Britain’s extradition treaty with Hong Kong was suspended and a ban was placed on the sale of potentially lethal weapons to Hong Kong, extending trade sanctions already in place on mainland China since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Banned items include those that could be used by authorities for the suppression of Hong Kong citizens, such as shackles, intercept equipment, firearms, and smoke grenades.
Beijing took further action on November 11, 2020, when China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee passed a resolution to disqualify any Hong Kong legislator who showed support for or promoted Hong Kong’s independence, refused to acknowledge Beijing’s sovereignty over Hong Kong, or who sought foreign countries to “interfere in the affairs of Hong Kong.” As a result, four opposition lawmakers were immediately expelled from the Hong Kong Legislative Council.
A statement from UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on November 12 said: “This is the third time since 1997 that China has breached the legally-binding Joint Declaration. The first was in 2016. The second was in June 2020 when Beijing introduced the Hong Kong National Security Legislation.”
Raab is in discussions with the Lord Chancellor about removing British judges presiding over the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal. Nine of the 13 foreign judges currently serving on the court are British. The presence of foreign judges is part of the Basic Law forming the agreement between the UK and China to guarantee Hong Kong’s autonomy. Having foreign judges has allowed Hong Kong to claim legal independence, and their removal could signify the end of that freedom.
On November 23, 2020, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO) issued a report that spoke of the damage to freedom of expression after political content was taken out of textbooks by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The UK is currently considering Magnitsky-style sanctions, while the EU has asked China to reverse the new rules and the U.S. has pledged continued sanctions on Chinese officials.
Since January 31, 2021, Hong Kong citizens who have British National Overseas status (BNO) have been eligible to apply for a new visa that offers them a way to become British citizens. This path to citizenship was announced last year, immediately after the National Security Law was enacted. Home Secretary Priti Patel said in a statement: “China’s decision to impose national security legislation on Hong Kong is deeply regrettable. Now China has imposed this law we will launch a new immigration route for British Nationals (Overseas) and their families.” The low-cost visa is designed to encourage families to migrate to the UK.
Initially, it was difficult for the British Government to predict the level of uptake of the new visa. Based on the number of BNO passport holders, the UK’s Foreign Office was anticipating almost 200,000 Hongkongers would be likely to take up British citizenship. That number has risen to around 330,000 as more and more people fear they will suffer retaliation for participating in the anti-extradition movement.
The National Security crackdown has already seen the arrest of three high profile activists — Joshua Wong, Ivan Lam, and Agnes Chow — who were arrested under the new National Security Law and charged with illegal assembly and inciting people to take part in protests in 2019. On December 16, the trio appeared before the Hong Kong magistrates and were sent straight to jail on various charges.
According to the BBC, another 53 activists in Hong Kong were rounded up in dawn raids by more than 1,000 police officers on January 6 using the National Security Law, which Amnesty International called a weapon “to punish anyone who dares to challenge the establishment.” The numbers of arrests have rattled people.
Since the new BNO visa was announced last July, the number of Hongkongers entering Britain on short term visas now stands at 7,000 according to AP, while calls to Immigration specialists has increased daily. Those on short term visas are eligible to transfer to the BNO visa process and extend their visa from within the UK if they are unable to renew at home due to coronavirus travel restrictions. Initially, about 2.5 million were expected to enter the UK, but with quotas and targets removed, up to 5 million Hongkongers could enter the UK looking for a better life with freedom for their children.