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Tuesday, February 02, 2021, 01:36
What is the British government up to?
By Ho Lok-sang
Tuesday, February 02, 2021, 01:36 By Ho Lok-sang

The British government announced last year that it would offer a British National Overseas (BNO) visa for BN(O) passport holders and their close family members from January 2021. Beijing reacted strongly, and announced that it would no longer accept the BN(O) passport as a travel document. Other countermeasures may also be in the pipeline. 

One might say that immigration policy is the prerogative of any sovereign nation. Why should Beijing be upset? It is important to point out that ensuring national security and territorial integrity is also the prerogative of a sovereign nation. In the Joint Declaration, the UK accepted that China has sovereignty over Hong Kong. But the UK billed the move to offer a BN(O) pathway to migrate to the UK as protecting Hong Kong people from the National Security Law. This not only disregards China’s need for national security and territorial integrity, but also deviated from what was stated in a memorandum exchanged in December of 1984 that clearly stipulated that BN(O) holders would not have the right of abode in the UK. The “pathway” is an affront to China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong.

Surely the UK should know that national security is an important matter to any sovereign nation. Readers can examine for themselves some facts, and see the absurdity of the claim that Beijing breached what was promised in the Sino-British Declaration. 

The Basic Law in force today was promulgated back in 1990, and its drafting took years of consultation in Hong Kong. In Annex I of the Joint Declaration, under “Constitution” are “Establishment of the Hong Kong S.A.R.” and “The Basic Law”. We can say therefore that the Basic Law is the embodiment of the Sino-British Declaration. As long as Beijing abides by the Basic Law, it cannot be said to have deviated from the Sino-British Declaration.

Instead of reassuring Beijing that Hong Kong is ready, some people, led by the opposition parties, asked to bypass the nominating committee and bring in “civic nomination” and “party nomination”. Because these things are not in the Basic Law Beijing of course could not agree to that. Thus it is the “protesters”, not Beijing, who have deviated from the Basic Law and thus the Sino-British Joint Declaration

Article 23 of the Basic Law clearly states that the SAR “shall enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the central people’s government, or theft of state secrets, to prohibit foreign political organisations or bodies from conducting political activities in the region, and to prohibit political organisations or bodies of the region from establishing ties with foreign political organisations or bodies.” It is those who keep trying to block the enactment of Article 23 in Hong Kong who are deviating from the Sino-British Joint Declaration. Since China does have sovereignty over Hong Kong, and since the threat to national security has become apparent, no conscionable country should declare introducing the NSL an intrusion into Hong Kong’s freedoms. In a sense it was the protesters, who disrupted the lives of ordinary Hong Kong people that undermined Hong Kong people’s freedoms. Thus, apart from ensuring national security, the NSL also helps protect Hongkongers’ personal safety, private property, public amenities and properties. The puzzle is why Western powers are so concerned about their national security, but at the same time completely disregard China’s need for national security. 

Article 45 of the Basic Law clearly stated — and regrettably the Western press keeps ignoring — that “The method for selecting the Chief Executive shall be specified in the light of the actual situation in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress”. “The ultimate aim is the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.” 

Since “the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures” is an “ultimate aim”, it is clear that the nominating committee can never be dispensed with. Although it is commonly acknowledged that the nominating committee cannot be said to be “broadly representative”, the progression toward this goal will be gradual and will be “in the light of the actual situation in the Hong Kong SAR”. Beijing was watching developments to see if Hong Kong was ready for a more broadly representative nominating committee. 

Instead of reassuring Beijing that Hong Kong is ready, some people, led by the opposition parties, asked to bypass the nominating committee and bring in “civic nomination” and “party nomination”. Because these things are not in the Basic Law Beijing of course could not agree to that. Thus it is the “protesters”, not Beijing, who have deviated from the Basic Law and thus the Sino-British Joint Declaration. So what is Britain up to? What freedoms has Beijing taken away from Hong Kong people? 

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab claims: “China’s imposition of the National Security Law in Hong Kong constitutes a clear and serious breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration contrary to international law”. Where is the logic to this? The UK government says the “1984 declaration is a legally binding treaty which commits to ensure the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong and maintain Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy”. Where in the Joint Declaration can Mr Raab find a clause that says Beijing would allow the freedom to undermine national security and particularly China’s territorial integrity?

The author is a senior research fellow at the Pan Sutong Shanghai-Hong Kong Economic Policy Research Institute, Lingnan University.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily. 


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