Days after China began to enforce a sweeping national security law over Hong Kong, several governments moved to offer the territory’s residents an opportunity to resettle abroad as they grapple with the new reality of a city fundamentally transformed by the legislation.
Britain, Australia and Taiwan are among those that have proposed special measures that would absorb Hongkongers as refugees. The immigration proposals remain tentative in some cases, but they are already opening a fresh rift with Beijing, which has lashed out at the prospect of other jurisdictions helping Hong Kong citizens to flee.
What is the National Security Law?
The security law targets secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with punishments up to life in prison. This gives Beijing more policing authority over the semi-autonomous territory.
Officials say “spreading hatred towards the police” are punishable offences and experts express concern that the law can also have a chilling effect on political activists, education and the media.
Over 300 people have already been arrested and books written by activists have been removed from curriculum and libraries under the new law.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the new law “violates Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy”
The PM said Hong Kong’s freedoms were being violated by the new security law and those affected would be offered a “route” out of the former UK colony.
About 350,000 UK passport holders, and 2.6 million others eligible, will be able to come to the UK for five years, and after a further year, be able to apply for citizenship.
British National Overseas Passport holders in Hong Kong were granted special status in the 1980s but currently have restricted rights and are only entitled to visa-free access to the UK for six months.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that the country has suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong following the enactment of the National Security Law by China.
Australia will also extend visas by five years for skilled and graduate visa holders from Hong Kong, with a pathway to permanent residency at the end of those five years, Morrison said.
The prime minister also announced new incentives to attract Hong Kong businesses to relocate to Australia and offered opportunities for resettlement under the humanitarian program. Canada also suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong last week.
The Labour opposition also called on the government to support the 17,000 Hongkongers currently in Australia on temporary visas, saying no one should be forced to return to Hong Kong when their visas expired if they did not want to go back.
Taiwan has become a refuge for a small but growing number of pro-democracy protesters fleeing Hong Kong, which have convulsed since last year by protests.
During a press conference on Thursday, Deputy Minister of the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), Chiu Chui-cheng, said that the Taiwan-Hong Kong Services and Exchanges Office received more than 180 phone calls and emails from Hongkongers based in Taiwan and those still living in Hong Kong.
Many sought assistance under Article 18 of the MAC’s Laws and Regulations Regarding Hong Kong & Macao Affairs, said Mr Chui, which states that “Necessary assistance shall be provided to Hong Kong or Macau residents whose safety and liberty are immediately threatened for political reasons.”
When asked if Taiwan is considering shutting down the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Hong Kong, he said that it was currently operating normally.
“We will not take the initiative to withdraw the office unless there are additional factors,” Mr Chiu stressed. “We will stay until the end to ensure the safety of the Taiwanese people in Hong Kong and safeguard the rights and interests of Hong Kong people to the last minute, last second.”
Backlash from China
China has warned countries not to interfere with Hong Kong following the imposition of the security law.
Ambassador Liu Xiaoming said that the UK’s offer of a path to citizenship for up to three million Hongkongers amounted to “gross interference” and that he hoped that the UK reconsiders its citizenship offer.
Mr Liu also warned the UK that if it decided against using Chinese tech giant Huawei’s technology to build its nationwide 5G infrastructure, it would send a “very bad message to other Chinese businesses”.
A ‘Plan B’
At a time where political asylum causes friction between governments, many high net worth individuals are choosing to resort to Citizenship by Investment (CBI) Programmes instead.
CS Global Partners’ director Paul Singh said that “a Plan B like CBI is well worth the investment” as it offers “a safe and secure future”.
There are five Caribbean countries offering citizenship through investment programmes, namely Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis and St Lucia.
Well vetted applicants can donate to a government fund or invest in real estate options and receive second citizenship in return. Second citizenship in the Caribbean can offer visa-free travel to global business hubs including access to the EU Schengen zone with the ability to pass the citizenship on to kin.