By Yang Jianli

China is scrambling to retain its sovereign control over Hong Kong as Regina Ip, a member of the Legislative council of Hong Kong, has issued well-drafted threats to revoke the Chinese nationality of citizens who wish to migrate to UK through their British National (Overseas) passport, effectively ending their Hong Kong residency rights.

The BN(O) passport grants millions of Hong Kong citizens a path to easily seek work and consular access in the UK, an arrangement that allows the BN(O) passport holders to reside permanently in the UK through a series of steps. It is estimated that under a special immigration scheme proposed by UK in July 2020, more than 3 million Hong Kong BN(O) passport holders could migrate to UK for work and gain eventual citizenship, creating a massive brain drain, which worries Beijing.

Beijing has been cracking down on Hong Kong for years for its pro-democracy protests. It has drawn regular criticism from UK, further fracturing UK-China relations.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has condemned the regular undermining of the Sino-British joint declaration by China and violations of the freedoms that the treaty grants to Hong Kong citizens. 

Governments worldwide including the US and Canada have repeatedly called out China over their egregious violations of the Sino-British declaration. The Canadian government has gone on to announce a new pathway to citizenship for young Hong Kong citizens, a move that has come in response of threats by the Chinese government endangering the safety of Canadian citizens in Hong Kong. 

UK too has thus followed suit and announced an immigration scheme to offer British citizenship to Hongkongers in possession of BN(O) passports. Beijing has not taken to this offer well and has promised to strongly retaliate against this move.

What’s problematic for Beijing is that UK’s offer to support pro-democracy Hong Kong citizens exposes the faultlines in China’s grasp over Honk Kong. The UK-Hong Kong agreement that gives Hong Kong it’s democratic freedoms from China until 2047 has long been a bone of contention for the Chinese government, which has sought to integrate Hong Kong to its communist regime.  As per a report by Bank of America, the emigration of Hong Kong residents overseas could trigger an outflow of capital amounting to $36 billion in 2021, an estimate that has come in the background of UK opening its special visa scheme for Hong Kong BN(O) passport holders. 

This has greatly irked the attention of pro-Beijing Honk Kong legislators who have openly called for extreme measures against pro-democracy Hongkongers who wish to move to UK, including stripping their BN(O) passport privileges and their right to vote in elections.

Beijing has started to take concrete steps towards these threats. The government has gone on to block BN(O) passport holders trying to emigrate to UK from withdrawing their retirement savings from the pension fund, reported by the Apple Daily. 

UK’s offer to provide a safe haven to Hong Kong citizens is a culmination of years of political turmoil and protest in Hong Kong, including the “umbrella protests” of 2014. The major trigger point to open up immigration for BN(O) passport holders has been the enactment of the Hong Kong security law by Beijing in June 2020, which effectively gave carte blanche rights to the Chinese government to extradite Hong Kong pro-democracy protestors.