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Hong Kong's humanitarian crisis from CCP national security: who is stepping up to help us?

Updated: May 29, 2020

UK (co-signer with China of the Joint Declaration)

[Update] UK may extend visa rights of BNO passport holders

RTHK 28 May 2020

New UK legal advice could open door to Hong Kong citizens

Leading QC blows apart government claim its hands are tied by obligations to China

Guardian 24 May 2020

A UK government claim that insurmountable legal obligations to China prevent ministers offering a right of abode to tens of thousands of Hong Kong citizens has been blown apart by new legal advice handed to Conservative MPs.

The advice by one of the UK’s most prominent immigration QCs is likely to shift the mood on the Tory benches in the face of a potential clampdown on Hong Kong by the Chinese government.

The advice says ministers are wrong to suggest they are bound by agreements with China to refuse a right of abode to the tens of thousands of Hong Kong citizens who hold a British national (overseas), or BN(O), passport.

Home Office ministers have been resisting a claim to a legal right of abode on the basis it might be in breach of the understandings the UK government reached with China alongside the 1984 joint declaration on the future of Hong Kong.

The issue has suddenly regained importance after the Chinese government said it intended to impose sweeping new security laws on Hong Kong that risk its semi-autonomous status. The offer of a right of abode to BN(O) passport-holders is seen as one of the few practical steps that may be in the sole gift of the UK, the former colonial power of the city, to alleviate the plight of citizens fearing persecution by the Chinese state.

A group of Tory MPs, led by Bob Seely and Imran Ahmad Khan, have seen the new legal advice and want at least a clear government statement that no legal obstacle exists to an offer of a right of abode, and any refusal to make that offer is purely a political or diplomatic choice.

BN(O) passport-holders have the right to visit for up to six months, but cannot automatically work in the UK or gain citizenship. Seely said: “It would be a stain on our country’s reputation if other nations were to open their arms, metaphorically speaking, to Hong Kong BN(O) folk in their hour of need before the UK did so.”

Ministers have frequently said, most recently last year, that an offer of right of abode would be in breach of the commitments made by the British and Chinese governments in memorandums attached to the 1984 Sino-British joint declaration on the future of Hong Kong. Those memorandums established BN(O) in Hong Kong as a new class of British citizens that could only be claimed by those born before the handover.

But in a new opinion, Laurie Fransman, the leading QC on nationality law, writes: “Domestic British nationality law has evolved since the 1984 declaration including by giving greater extension of the right of abode to ‘British nationals’, including BN(O)s, in compliance with the expectations of international law.”

British citizens, including some BN(O)s, were given a right to register, he points out, adding: “Manifestly, the UK government did not consider itself barred by the memoranda, or anything else, from taking such action.” He says he endorses those who claim BN(O)s can be given a right of abode.

In making their legal case, ministers also frequently cite a report on citizenship written for the then Labour government by the former attorney general Lord Goldsmith in 2008.

Goldsmith has himself written to the home secretary, Priti Patel, to ask the government to stop using him in aid of their argument. In his letter he insists he had not in 2008 himself passed any judgment on whether a right of abode from BN(O)s would be in breach of the joint declaration, adding his position had been mischaracterised by the government.

He wrote that his report had merely cited, but not endorsed, the contemporary view of the Foreign Office that it may be in breach. His own subsequent independent examination of this issue, he said in his letter sent in February, found that the joint declaration was no obstacle. Goldsmith pointed out, in a view endorsed by Fransman, that the status of the BN(O)s is not mentioned in the joint declaration but in a memorandum of understanding sent by the British government on the same day. The memorandum was received by the Chinese government, but never signed or agreed.

The memorandum excludes a right of abode, Goldsmith concedes, but he claims it did not bind the future domestic actions of the UK government in perpetuity.

Armed with the new legal arguments, Seely and Ahmad Khan have now written to Patel, saying : “Given the deteriorating situation in Hong Kong, with the continued erosion of the rule of law, it strikes us that the government could consider reviewing its position on BN(O) passports.

“BN(O) passports were always a compromise, dependent in part on the rights guaranteed in the handover settlement. The introduction of the national security legislation means that that settlement is essentially dead. As such there are clear legal and practical grounds for looking again at this matter.”

European Union EU

EU urges China to respect Hong Kong autonomy

Reuters 26 May 2020

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - China must respect Hong Kong’s autonomy, the European Union said on Tuesday, amid controversy over Chinese plans to adopt a national security law for the city.

“We attach great importance to the preservation of Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy in line with the Basic Law and international commitments,” European Council President Charles Michel, who represents European governments, said.

Speaking after a video conference with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, he said Europe and Japan “share the same ideas” on China. “We are not naive about Chinese behaviour,” Michel said.

He said Europe supported the “one country, two systems” principle that governs Hong Kong’s autonomy.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has proposed a security law that would reduce Hong Kong’s separate legal status and is expected to be discussed by China’s National People’s Congress and approved on Thursday.

EU foreign ministers are expected to discuss the issue at a regular meeting on Friday. A spokeswoman for the EU’s executive Commission said it was too early to say if the bloc would consider sanctions against Beijing. Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said on Monday that the EU needs a “more robust strategy” for Beijing.


[Update] Taiwan to Offer Effective Asylum to People Fleeing Hong Kong

RFA 27 May 2020

Taiwan offers help to Hong Kong activists as China tightens grip

Taiwan's laws already provide help to Hong Kong citizens whose safety and liberty are threatened for political reasons.

Aljazeera 24 May 2020

Taiwan will provide the people of Hong Kong with "necessary assistance", President Tsai Ing-wen said, after a resurgence in protests in the Chinese ruled territory against newly proposed national security legislation from Beijing.

Writing on her Facebook page late on Sunday, Tsai said the proposed legislation was a serious threat to Hong Kong's freedoms and judicial independence - a statement that is likely to rile up China, which considers Taiwan part of its territory.

Taiwan has become a refuge for a small but growing number of pro-democracy protesters fleeing Hong Kong, which has been roiled by protests since last year.

Hong Kong police on Sunday fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse thousands of people who rallied to protest against Beijing's plan to impose national security laws on the territory.

Bullets and repression are not the way to deal with the aspirations of Hong Kong's people for freedom and democracy, Taiwan's president said.

"In face of the changing situation, the international community has proactively stretched out a helping hand to Hong Kong's people," Tsai wrote.

Taiwan will "even more proactively perfect and forge ahead with relevant support work, and provide Hong Kong's people with necessary assistance", she wrote.

Taiwan has no law on refugees that could be applied to Hong Kong protesters, who seek asylum on the island. Its laws do promise, however, to help Hong Kong citizens whose safety and liberty are threatened for political reasons.

Anger in Beijing

The Hong Kong protests have won widespread sympathy in Taiwan, and the support for the protesters by Tsai and her administration has worsened already poor ties between Taipei and Beijing.

China, which claims Taiwan as its own, has accused supporters of Taiwan's independence of colluding with the protesters.

China believes Tsai to be a "separatist" bent on declaring the island's formal independence.

200 parliamentarians and policymakers from 23 countries

SCMP 24 May 2020

More than 200 parliamentarians and policymakers from 23 countries have issued a joint statement condemning Beijing’s move to introduce a national security law for Hong Kong and calling for governments to raise a voice against it.

They expressed concerns over Beijing’s resolution at the opening of its annual legislative sessions on Friday to “prevent, frustrate and punish” threats to national security by outlawing acts of secession, subversion and terrorism in Hong Kong.

The proposed law will bypass the city’s legislature. It will require the Hong Kong government to set up new institutions to safeguard Chinese sovereignty and allow the mainland’s agencies to operate in the city when needed.

The proposed law has sparked a debate over the fate of the “one country, two systems” blueprint that has guided Hong Kong since its handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

The signatories were led by Hong Kong’s last colonial governor Chris Patten, former British foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind, US senators Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Marco Rubio, 12 US congressmen, dozens of British MPs, as well as parliamentarians from Europe, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, India, Indonesia, South Korea as well as Malaysia.

In the statement, they expressed their grave concerns about the “unilateral introduction of national security legislation” by Beijing in Hong Kong.

“This is a comprehensive assault on the city’s autonomy, rule of law, and fundamental freedoms. The integrity of one-country, two-systems hangs by a thread,” they wrote.

Chinese Vice-Premier Han Zheng assured local deputies to Beijing’s top advisory body on Saturday that the new law would only target “a small group of people” to plug a legal loophole exposed by violent anti-government protests that erupted in the city last year.

But the signatories said the protests were driven by genuine grievances of ordinary Hongkongers.

“Draconian laws will only escalate the situation further, jeopardising Hong Kong’s future as an open Chinese international city,” they said.

“If the international community cannot trust Beijing to keep its word when it comes to Hong Kong, people will be reluctant to take its word on other matters. Sympathetic governments must unite to say that this flagrant breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration cannot be tolerated.

Speaking on a Commercial Radio programme on Sunday morning, Elsie Leung Oi-sie, former vice-chairwoman of the Basic Law Committee which advises the national legislature on the city’s mini-constitution, dismissed the criticisms.

She said the autonomy Hong Kong enjoyed would remain unchanged, as safeguarded by the Basic Law. “It [the national security law] is to improve the legal system, why would it undermine the rule of law?” she asked, reiterating that freedoms of the people would also remain intact as the law would only target a small minority of people.

The latest remarks by overseas politicians came after the foreign ministers of Britain, Australia and Canada issued a joint statement stressing the Sino-British Joint Declaration – the agreement signed by Britain and China in 1984 that paved the way for Hong Kong’s handover – remained legally binding, and the European Union called for the need to preserve the city’s autonomy.

On Saturday, the office of China’s foreign ministry in Hong Kong hit out at certain countries for making “irresponsible comments” about the legislation.

Foreign Ministers - EU, UK, Canada, Australia

SCMP 23 May 2020

As China took the first step to impose a new national security law on Hong Kong, international opposition grew on Friday, with the foreign ministers of Britain, Australia and Canada issuing a joint statement of alarm about the move and the European Union calling for the need to preserve the city's high degree of autonomy.

“We are deeply concerned at proposals for introducing legislation related to national security in Hong Kong,” the statement by British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, and his Australian and Canadian counterparts, Marise Payne and François-Philippe Champagne, said.

“Making such a law on Hong Kong’s behalf without the direct participation of its people, legislature or judiciary would clearly undermine the principle of ‘one country, two systems’, under which Hong Kong is guaranteed a high degree of autonomy.”

The three foreign ministers stressed that the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984, signed when Britain first agreed to hand over Hong Kong, then its colony, to Chinese control, remains legally binding and requires the city to maintain a high degree of autonomy until 2047.

Moreover, they said, the treaty “also provides that rights and freedoms, including those of the person, of the press, of assembly, of association and others, will be ensured by law in Hong Kong, and that the provisions of the two UN covenants on human rights (the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) shall remain in force”.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson weighed in as well on Friday, saying Britain “expect[s] China to respect Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms and high degree of autonomy”. “As a party to the joint declaration, the UK is committed to upholding Hong Kong’s autonomy and respecting the ‘one country, two systems’ model,” he said via a spokesman.

Also on Friday, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, issued a statement on behalf of the bloc, containing a thinly veiled criticism of China’s bid to unilaterally impose security laws on Hong Kong.

“The EU considers that democratic debate, consultation of key stakeholders, and respect for protected rights and freedoms in Hong Kong would represent the best way of proceeding with the adoption of national security legislation, as foreseen in Article 23 of the Basic Law, while also upholding Hong Kong’s autonomy and the ‘one country two systems’ principle,” he said.

Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, lays out the policies of China on Hong Kong, including the “one country two systems” principle, the local government and the fundamental rights and protections of Hongkongers.

Addressing the National People’s Congress, where the new legislation was introduced, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Friday said that Beijing would establish “sound legal systems and enforcement mechanism for safeguarding national security” in Hong Kong.

Under the proposal, Beijing would directly apply new national security law to Hong Kong, bypassing the city’s local legislative procedures provided for in both the joint declaration and in the Basic Law.

The proposal followed almost a year of mass protests by Hongkongers, which erupted over a proposed extradition law that would have left them subject to mainland legal system, then evolved into a larger pro-democracy movement.

After its enactment, the new law is intended to prevent, stop and punish acts in Hong Kong that threaten national security. The proposal is said to ban all seditious and subversive activity aimed at toppling the central government as well as any external interference in the city’s affairs.

There is growing concern whether Hong Kong’s pro-democracy supporters might be at risk under the new law, prompting calls for Britain to recognise citizenship rights for those holding British National (Overseas) passports, which were issued to those born before the handover but do not include the right to live in Britain.

“I call on the UK government to give residency rights to British National (Overseas) [passport holders],” Tom Tugendhat, chair of the British parliament’s foreign affairs committee, told the BBC.

“Very sadly, General Secretary Xi and his communist tyrannical partners are putting at risk the prosperity of the Chinese people,” he said, referring to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

In February, Peter Goldsmith, a former English attorney general, told the British government to give Hongkongers holding BN(O) passports the right to live in Britain, saying this would not be in breach of its agreement with China.

The British government considered the option last year, during the Hong Kong protests, but no conclusion was made, reportedly due to the foreign office’s opposition.

Luke de Pulford, a fellow of the London-based Hong Kong Watch group, also called on the government to extend citizenship to BN(O) holders.

Johnson “needs to send a strong and urgent signal to Beijing that their violation of the joint declaration comes at a price, and to set out how he intends to help UK nationals, who are on the brink of living under an authoritarian dictatorship”, he said.

According to Beijing’s plan, mainland Chinese national security organs could set up offices in Hong Kong to enforce the law. Beijing argued the legislation was needed out of the fear that Hong Kong would be turned into a base for overseas governments to plot secessionist or subversive activities against China.

Tugendhat called it “ridiculous” for China to use this as an excuse to curb freedom in Hong Kong.

“Hongkongers expressing their views and debating ideas is not subversion, it’s what free people do,” he said. “It’s ridiculous to call it anything else. Only a tyrant would call it anything else.”

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