China rebukes Britain as Oz eyes safe-haven plan

Top News | Jane Cheung and AFP 3 Jul 2020

China has warned Britain it could retaliate with "corresponding measures" after London decided to offer three million Hongkongers a path to citizenship in response to the national security law.

This came as Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison yesterday said it is also considering providing safe haven to Hong Kong residents.

Morrison said the situation is "very concerning" and his government is "very actively" considering proposals to welcome residents from the SAR.

Asked if Australia could extend an offer of safe haven, he said "yes," adding measures would soon be considered by his cabinet.

Britain's offer came a day after the national security law took effect on Tuesday night.

After living in Britain for five years they can apply for settled status, which will pave the way for British citizenship application after another year.

Tens of thousands of citizens have rushed to renew their BNO passports recently, after the former colonial ruler in recent months hinted it may give BNO holders rights to settle.

Courier company Spaceship said it has handled at least 6,000 BNO document deliveries to Her Majesty's passport office in recent months.

China's ambassador to Britain Liu Xiaoming said Britain's move will violate the agreements between the two countries.

In a statement on the website of the Chinese embassy in London, Liu rebuked British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's criticisms of the new law as irresponsible and unwarranted.

"All Chinese compatriots residing in Hong Kong are Chinese nationals," Liu said.

"If the British side makes unilateral changes to the relevant practice, it will breach its own position and pledges as well as international law and basic norms governing international relations."

"We firmly oppose this and reserve the right to take corresponding measures." Liu did not elaborate.

He urged Johnson to reassess the decision and "refrain from interfering in Hong Kong affairs."

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab admitted there is little Britain can do to "coercively force" China if it tries to block Hongkongers from going to the United Kingdom.

But a Hong Kong government spokesman was quick to dismiss online rumors over restricting residents' rights to travel - which claimed the government would require citizens to obtain approval before traveling outside China - as fake news.

Chinese affairs commentator Bruce Lui Ping-kuen said the central government may introduce counter policies to sanction British citizens or strip the rights of Hongkongers who settle in Britain through BNO rights.

"Beijing may stop offering embassy protection to BNO holders or even take away their rights as permanent residents in Hong Kong," he said. "But such measures will have to be handled very carefully as many Hongkongers have dual passports, even pro-establishment politicians and government officials."

Midland Immigration Consultancy director Swing Wong said inquiries for emigration have increased since news about the national security law came out in May, with the most popular destination being Taiwan.

Meanwhile, a former employee of the British consulate in Hong Kong, Simon Cheng Man-kit, who was detained by Chinese authorities last year, has been granted asylum in Britain.

The 29-year-old British overseas national said his asylum was granted based on the United Nations convention with a rigorous rule of law system, as Britain deemed his case as an "intrinsically political prosecution."

Cheng was returning to Hong Kong from Shenzhen on August 8 last year when he was taken away by Chinese authorities. He said he was forced to falsely confess that he colluded with the British government over the citywide anti-fugitive protests.

State media later released footage of Cheng confessing to hiring a prostitute.

jane.cheung@singtaonewscorp.com

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