The UK, on 30th June 2020, announced that it would offer citizenship to 3 million Hong Kong residents. This move came as a result of the new security law passed by Chinese authorities. This law severely harms the autonomy and freedom of the people of Hong Kong. People held massive public protests in Hong Kong against the law.
Why is the new security law disputed?
The law is problematic in light of Art. 23 of the Hong Kong Basic Law. This provides that the HK Special Administrative Region shall promulgate its laws. These laws pertain to the security of the Region. It also prevents foreign political bodies from carrying out political activities in the Region. It prevents them from interfering with HK’s independent security.
HK was always supposed to have a security law. However, it was never passed due to its unpopularity. This law is, thus, an intervention by China to ensure that the city has a legal framework. This would enable it to face serious challenges for its authority.
The new law criminalizes any act of:
1. secession – break away from the country
2. terrorism – use of violence against people
3. collusion with foreign or external forces
4. subversion – undermining the authority of central government.
● The guilty cannot run for public offices. Further, companies will face fines if found guilty under the law.
● Beijing will establish its office along with its law enforcement personnel. As for trial, some cases can be tried in mainland China, whereas, some of these trials will be behind closed doors.
● Wire-tapping and surveillance of people under suspicion are allowed.
● The law would also apply to people from outside of HK (non-permanent residents).
The decision is not the law in itself but authorizes the NPC Standing Committee to legislate. They can then add it to the Basic Law. They will then enact it in Hong Kong by way of an executive order.
People of HK are understandably afraid. This law would severely undermine their right to freedom of speech and expression. There have been reports of people deleting their Facebook posts. It is also speculated that China will impose its criminal law system on HK’s common law system. This would erode judicial independence in HK. Massive protests broke out in HK when the police made the first arrest under this new law.
What is the UK offering to HK residents?
China signed The Sino-British Joint Declaration, 1984. The UK demanded that the HKSAR, under the Chinese rule, should enjoy a high degree of autonomy. This was except in matters of foreign and defence relations. It also put conditions on the socio-economic systems and lifestyle in Hong Kong. It said that it would remain unchanged for 50 years after 1997 when the crown colony of HK would officially end.
This move is the most direct international response against Chinese law. It would offer citizenship to 300,000 British National Overseas Passport holders. Another 2.6 million people are eligible to apply. The law is not applicable for the young Hong Kongers who were born after 1997 when British rule in HK ended. Earlier these residents could only visit Britain for six months without a visa. Now they will have the right to live and work for five years, following which they can apply for citizenship.
Is the British law similar or different from the Indian CAA?
The Indian govt. passed the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act in December 2019. The Act seeks to provide citizenship to illegal immigrants from 6 minority communities. These people will be from 3 neighbouring Islamic states. These countries are Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. The law will apply to immigrants who fled due to religious persecution. Although, they will have to have reached India before 31st December 2014 to be eligible. The new British initiative for HK was immediately compared to the Indian CAA. There are several similarities and differences between the two laws.
Both the decisions garnered mixed reactions—both from the natives as well as the international audience. The question of sustaining a large group of migrants is common to both. Would there be enough jobs, places, and resources to provide for the people is a common question? However, the oppression faced by the affected parties is also common. It only differs in its severity. The Chinese authorities undermine HK’s autonomy.
Similarly, refugees in India faced large-scale communal persecution in their countries. Both India and Britain felt a sense of moral duty and responsibility for their former colonies. They believe they must stand up against the violation of fundamental human rights, especially when it concerns their former subjects. Both countries had agreements with counterparts to protect the rights of their subjects. These were the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Nehru-Liaquat Pact. They took these steps due to the failure of complying with the terms of these agreements.
The two decisions differ on various grounds. First, the criteria for granting citizenship is different. The CAA offers citizenship based on religious persecution of minorities. Whereas, Britain seeks to provide citizenship to residents of its former colony. This is under the speculation of undermined autonomy of HK violating the agreement. The CAA benefits migrants who have already come to India and resided for more than five years. Whereas, the UK’s decision aims to benefit the HK residents and BNO passport holders. These people would henceforth come to the UK and live and work for five years. Indian law makes a distinction based on religion. Although, the UK’s decision is meant for residents born before it handed over HK to China.
It would be interesting to see how the two countries plan to go about their decisions. What infrastructural and other changes will they undertake to accommodate the beneficiaries? What consequences would they have to face while implementing their decisions? Moreover, what good would it serve for the people?
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