Britain mulls pathway to citizenship for more than 3M inhabitants of Hong Kong

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Great Britain said Friday it could consider extending visa rights and offering a pathway to citizenship for millions of Hong Kong residents if China moves forward with planned legislation that critics say would criminalize protests and stifle freedom of speech in the semi-autonomous region.

Government officials said the move could impact about 3 million people who were born before 1997, when Hong Kong was a British colony, and classified as a “British National Oversees” (BNO).

“If China imposes this law, we will explore options to allow British Nationals Overseas to apply for leave to stay in the U.K., including a path to citizenship,” Home Secretary Priti Patel said in a statement. “We will continue to defend the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong.”

The announcement Friday is an expansion from what officials had hinted at Thursday, when Patel and Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said that they would consider extending rights to 350,000 BNO passport holders. 

The announcement is the latest rebuke of the Chinese law, a draft of which was approved by the rubber-stamp legislature in Beijing this week. The law would criminalize acts of “sedition, secession and terrorism” viewed as undermining the central government in Beijing.

The passage of the law sparked a new wave of pro-democracy protests on the island and an avalanche of criticism from countries across the globe that it violated the 1997 Sino-British Joint Declaration, which allowed Hong Kong to maintain an independent legislature and judicial system as well as its freedoms of speech, press and assembly.

“Signatories to this statement reiterate our deep concern regarding Beijing’s decision to impose a national security law in Hong Kong,” the top diplomats from the U.S., U.K., Australia and Canada said in a joint statement, adding the law could raise “the prospect of prosecution in Hong Kong for political crimes, and undermines existing commitments to protect the rights of Hong Kong people.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told lawmakers this week that the U.S. no longer considers Hong Kong autonomous, and President Trump announced Friday that the government would adjust its policies on the region moving forward. 

“China has replaced its promised formula for ‘one country two systems’ with ‘one country, one system,’” the president said during a press conference.

Tags Australia Beijing China Donald Trump Great Britain Hong Kong Hong Kong law Hong Kong–Mainland China conflict Mike Pompeo Politics of Hong Kong Sino-British Joint Declaration U.K. United Kingdom

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