The Foreign Office has summoned the Chinese ambassador to make clear the UK’s “deep concern” over the new Hong Kong national security law.
Liu Xiaoming was called to a meeting with the Foreign Office’s permanent under-secretary Sir Simon McDonald on Wednesday, hours after China imposed the legislation on the city.
Sir Simon made clear the UK’s “deep concern” over the new law, which was proposed a month ago and came into effect at 11pm in Hong Kong on Tuesday – without the details being published first.
He reiterated that the law breaches the Sino-British Joint Declaration which was signed in 1984 and gave Hong Kong almost full autonomy for 50 years after Britain handed the territory back to China in 1997.
It is only the second time a Chinese ambassador has been called to the Foreign Office about Hong Kong since 1984.
The new security law drawn up by Beijing makes secessionist, subversive, or “terrorist” activities illegal in Hong Kong – as well as foreign intervention in the city’s internal affairs.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab offered 2.9 million people in Hong Kong citizenship rights on Wednesday as police in the city started arresting peaceful protesters for carrying leaflets supporting Hong Kong independence on the 23rd anniversary of the handover.
Accusing China of a “grave and deeply disturbing” breach of the joint declaration, Mr Raab said the “bespoke” visa route would let British Nationals Overseas – people who were Hong Kong citizens before 1997 – and their dependents come from Hong Kong to work or study in the UK for five years.
They will then be able to apply for settled status and – if successful – can apply for citizenship one year later.
But Victor Gao, who was former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s translator, said he “seriously doubts” the British government will follow through on its promise.
He told Sky News: “They didn’t do it in 1997 and I don’t think they’ll do it now.
“If you compare Hong Kong to Britain, lots of people in HK love living there because it’s a good place to do business, very low taxes, people won’t choose to leave.”
He said that anybody who cares for Hong Kong’s future would support the new law and claimed lots of Hong Kongers do because they are fed up of the past 12 months of “violence, anarchy and an attack on the rule of law”.
Mr Gao insisted the right to protest and demonstrate and the freedom of speech and assembly are “fully protected” under the new law, despite 370 people being arrested on Wednesday – including 10 for “breaching” the new law.
Emily Lau, a former chair of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, said she thinks some people will be “very keen” to take Mr Raab up on his offer, but “certainly not millions” as she hopes other allies such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US will also help.
She told Sky News: “Certainly, I hope there will be an international lifeboat scheme to help the very frightened people of Hong Kong.”
Chris Patten, Hong Kong’s last governor under British rule, said the new law was a “complete overturning of One Country, Two Systems” – the principle under which the declaration was formed.
He called the law “Orwellian”, said it will damage Hong Kong’s economy, and said that the UK and its allies need to stand up to China.
Lord Patten told Sky News: “We should work with them, make clear that when China behaves reasonably that’s fine and we’ll work with them, when they behave badly we’ll call them out, there will be consequences.
“There has to be, otherwise the 21st century will become increasingly unstable, increasingly less prosperous and increasingly dangerous.”