UK's Johnson says Hong Kong citizens would be welcome if China clamps down

UK's Johnson says Hong Kong citizens would be welcome if China clamps down

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is offering safe haven for Hong Kong citizens if China enacts a national security law.

“Many people in Hong Kong fear their way of life — which China pledged to uphold — is under threat,” Johnson wrote in a column that was published in the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong-based newspaper. “If China proceeds to justify their fears, then Britain could not in good conscience shrug our shoulders and walk away.”

The prime minister asserted that a national security law ordered by Beijing would violate the terms of the agreement that China and the U.K. came to when China regained control over Hong Kong in 1997.

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China announced the planned national security law earlier in the month.

Pro-democracy protests have spread through Hong Kong's streets since last year and many fear that a national security law would further restrict the freedoms that Hong Kong was initially promised.

Chinese officials have pushed back against Johnson's remarks, saying that the agreement that he referred to — the Sino-British Joint Declaration — was irrelevant.

“The U.K. has had no sovereignty, governance or supervision over Hong Kong since its return [to Chinese rule],” Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China's foreign ministry, said at a news briefing Tuesday, according to The Associated Press. “Therefore, the British side has no right to cite the Sino-British Joint Declaration to make irresponsible remarks on Hong Kong affairs and interfere in China’s internal affairs."

Hong Kong's leader, Carrie Lam, also chided those criticizing Beijing, saying that “blatant double standards” were on display.

“I can only say that the international community and some of the foreign governments have been adopting blatant double standards in dealing with this matter and commenting on this matter,” Lam said.

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She continued, “It is within the legitimate jurisdiction of any country to enact laws to protect and safeguard national security. U.S.A. is no exception. U.K. is no exception. So why should they object, resist or even condemn and take their sanctions against Hong Kong and the People’s Republic of China for taking similar actions?”

Last week, President TrumpDonald John TrumpSecret Service members who helped organize Pence Arizona trip test positive for COVID-19: report Trump administration planning pandemic office at the State Department: report Iran releases photo of damaged nuclear fuel production site: report MORE announced that Hong Kong, which receives preferential economic treatment from the U.S., would be stripped of these privileges and labeled as no longer autonomous. 

In his column, Johnson noted that roughly 350,000 Hong Kong citizens hold British National Overseas passports and an additional 2.5 million are eligible to apply for them.