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This week, the Prime Minister vowed to offer millions of Hong Kong residents a path to UK citizenship if Beijing pushed ahead with a controversial security law for the semi-autonomous territory. Tensions over the former British colony have escalated.
Writing in a column published on Wednesday by the South China Morning Post, he said the law would curtail freedoms and erode its autonomy.
Mr Johnson wrote: “Many people in Hong Kong fear their way of life – which China pledged to uphold – is under threat.
“If China proceeds to justify their fears, then Britain could not in good conscience shrug our shoulders and walk away.
“Since the handover in 1997, the key has been the precious concept of ‘one country, two systems’, enshrined in Hong Kong’s Basic Law and underpinned by the Joint Declaration signed by Britain and China.”
After Mr Johnson’s comments, the Beijing state-controlled outlet The Global Times claimed the UK would have more to lose than China if a trade deal is scrapped.
The nationalist tabloid wrote: “British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government may sincerely believe they are battling for their values as they confront China over the national security law for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, when in fact they are complicating a much-needed deal, threatening to inflict substantial damage on their own economy.
“One more thing British politicians may be mistaken about is which country needs the free trade agreement more.
“The coronavirus has hit the UK hard, and it is currently suffering its worst peacetime downturn in centuries.”
The PM’s intervention comes after China’s parliament approved a decision last week to create laws to curb sedition, secession, terrorism and foreign influence in Hong Kong.
It allowed mainland security and intelligence agencies to be stationed in the city for the first time.
The plan for the legislation followed months of often violent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
Following Mr Johnson’s comments, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam accused foreign critics of displaying “blatant double standards” over Beijing’s decision.
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Following talks with officials in Beijing, Miss Lam said China has the same right as Britain and the US to enact legislation protecting its national security and said foreign criticism and threats of sanctions could not be justified.
She also said China was compelled to take the step at the national level because opposition in Hong Kong’s own legislature and among government critics made it impossible to do so locally.
Miss Lam said: “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.
“It is within the legitimate jurisdiction of any country to enact laws to protect and safeguard national security.
”USA is no exception. UK 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?”
Around 350,000 Hong Kong citizens hold British National Overseas passports, a legacy of the colonial era, and 2.5 million others are eligible to apply for them, Mr Johnson said in his column.
Long lines have formed at DHL courier offices in the city since the announcement as people rush to apply for or renew their BNO passports.
Mr Johnson said if China imposes a national security law, Britain would allow holders of the BNO passports to remain for 12 months on a renewable basis and would grant them the right to work, placing them on a possible path to UK citizenship.
Currently, BNO passport holders currently can stay in the UK for only up to six months.
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