UK could offer ‘path to citizenship’ for 300,000 in Hong Kong amid China fears

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The UK has opened the “path to citizenship” for up to 300,000 people in Hong Kong after China passed a controversial security law that is seen as extending Chinese rule over the autonomous city.

The plan would give a path to citizenship for British National (Overseas) (BNO) passport holders in Hong Kong. These estimated 300,000 people were given BNO passports by the UK before it handed over rule of Hong Kong to China in 1997, but they are currently limited to six month stays in the UK.

“If China continues down this path and implements this national security legislation, we will remove that six month limit and allow those BNO passport holders to come to the UK and to apply to work and study for extendable periods of 12 months and that will itself provide a pathway to future citizenship,” said UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Friday.

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The move would be interpreted as an escalation by Beijing, who is concerned that it would lead to a flight of talented young people to the UK, according to the BBC.

It comes amid rising tensions between China and Western governments over Beijing’s attempts to increase control over Hong Kong. Pro-Democracy activists began a campaign of street protests in June, 2019, against plans to allow extradition to mainland China.

The protests escalated throughout 2019, despite the bill being withdrawn in September, fueled by wider fears that Hong Kong’s autonomy was coming under threat from China.

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Western governments and pro-democracy activists are now warning that China’s latest security bill threatens the “one nation, two systems” framework set up when the UK withdrew from Hong Kong in 1997.

Reacting to China passing the security bill, which could lead to Hong Kong coming under the same laws as mainland China, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned on Wednesday that Hong Kong “could no longer be considered to have a high degree of autonomy.”

In a joint statement, the UK, US, Australia and Canada said that the new bill could “curtail the Hong Kong people’s liberties” and “dramatically erode Hong Kong’s autonomy and the system that made it so prosperous.”