I was delighted today upon hearing the news that Hong Kong’s British national (overseas), or BNO, passport holders are on course – should China refuse to withdraw its new national security law proposals – to be granted a less wrought path to British citizenship. For many, the move represented the first concrete step by the British government in standing up for Hong Kong against China’s authoritarianism.
It also coincided with the United States passing the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, standing “by its commitment to never stand by whilst a communist dictatorship carts an ethnic and religious group off to camps”, as Matt Kilcoyne commented on Twitter.
Two clear messages sent from arguably the free world’s two most powerful countries that we will not stand idly by while the rights of minorities are curtailed by the Chinese Communist party’s authoritarian regime – and yet we must go further.
Out of Hong Kong’s 7.5 million residents, only 300,000 are currently BNO passport holders. People born after 1997, many of whom have numbered the heroic protestors against the CCP over the past few years, are ineligible. Taiwan and the United States have led the way in the past few days in promising the necessary assistance, and we must join them in doing what is necessary. US legislators, for example, are working on bills to extend priority refugee status to Hong Kong citizens.
If we fail to go further, we risk Hong Kong becoming collateral damage in the new-look cold war. Increasingly, China is becoming not just an economic rival – as it has now been for some time – but a blueprint for an entirely different way to run society. The coronavirus pandemic has clearly demonstrated that, though it is not a sudden revelation.
The Western world has, until now, been fundamentally unable to deal with the CCP’s creeping authoritarianism – the United States and the United Kingdom have been battling internal disputes, while the European Union can always be relied upon for its failure to deliver a comprehensive foreign policy agenda which all 27 member states can agree upon. As a result, the west has so far failed to prevent China from threatening the basic freedoms of people in Hong Kong, Tibet, and further.
It is shameful that, as Hong Kong is so comprehensively threatened, our media coverage is dominated by bitter debate on whether Dominic Cummings broke lockdown, rather than reports of police firing tear gas at protestors in Hong Kong.
The post-coronavirus world is going to see a major struggle for superiority between China and the USA. While it won’t look like the last cold war, the impact on British foreign policy will be immense. Since the Brexit vote, there has been some discussion about whether the United Kingdom really needs to take a side between China and the United States – or if we could walk a tightrope, trade with both, and steer clear of any impending clash.
The fact is that yes, we must absolutely choose a side – because this isn’t just about trading partners but about ideology. Whatever you may think of Trump’s America, the choice is between liberalism and democracy, or a communist dictatorship and large-scale oppression.
The United Kingdom must, as it always has done, defend the rights, freedoms and sovereignty of small nations. It is clear that the situation in Hong Kong is not a one-off event, and any sign of dissent against Beijing from the small nations in the CCP’s orbit will be met with hard crackdowns.
There are several steps that the United Kingdom can take to send a lifeline to Hong Kong – joining Taiwan and the United States, among other allies, in offering easier routes to citizenship is one way. Proactively extending British citizenship to all Hongkoners and building a new charter city – New Hong Kong – on our shores is another. Whatever the path, in this new ideological battle, we must not let Hong Kong become collateral.