The UK’s visa program for British national overseas passport holders is generally seen in Hong Kong as a “last resort” for those who wish to flee Beijing’s new National Security Law, but the program should be extended to youngsters, multiple activists in exile have told City A.M.
Baggio Leung, a former Hong Kong legislator and pro-democracy activist, sought asylum in Washington in December following his arrest under the territory’s new National Security Law in September of last year.
“A lot of Hong Kong people no longer feel secure. Especially after the movement of 2019, many of us actually put all our chips on that [movement],” he said.
Therefore, Britain’s new visa scheme, which opened last Sunday for holders of a British National Overseas (BNO) passport in Hong Kong, is a way out. “If we cannot stop the Beijing government’s repression, then there’s still a chance for Hong Kong people to choose to leave,” Leung said.
The visa program offers Hong Kong residents the opportunity to live, study and work in the UK and is “a sense of insurance or a last resort” for those escaping repression, Leung stated.
Activists have warned that the Chinese Communist Party is using a strict new security law, which came into force June 2020, to censor political opposition. The law and criminalises any act of secession, subversion and collusion with foreign forces.
“Traditionally, the easiest way for Hong Kong people is the BNO passport, so this scheme helps a lot with those people who really need to escape from the National Security Law. So many Hong Kong people will choose to leave,” he said.
Two days before the visa scheme opened, however, the Beijing government announced that it will no longer recognise the BNO passport as an official travel document.
Unsure of what this will mean for BNO holders looking to leave the former British territory, Leung said that it sets a dangerous precedent for the future.
If the Beijing government can refuse to recognise this particular passport, Leung argued it may one day refuse Canadian, American and regular British passports.
“You may think that this is a bit far away, but I think the ban of the BNO passport is the start of this trend.
“And if you look at things in Tibet, what Beijing did to Tibet or Uighurs, they will do it step by step. But the ultimate thing that they want to do is to build another wall that breaks the connection between Hong Kong and the world,” he said.
The British government has estimated that 5.4m people are eligible for the scheme, around 75 per cent of Hong Kong’s population.
Only those born before 30 June 1997, when Britain transferred control of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China, have a BNO passport and are therefore eligible for the visa. Those born after have a much more difficult path to safety.
“That’s why I am asking the US to have a lifeboat program, especially for those youngsters who were born after 1997,” Leung said.
Honcques Laus, the youngest person ‘wanted’ by Chinese authorities for breaching the National Security Law, fled to London in June of last year at only 18-years old.
Laus, who is wanted alongside five other activists in exile, must go through the UK’s asylum-seeking process instead of the BNO visa scheme as he was born after 1997.
However, the pandemic has curtailed the entire settlement process for Laus.
“Whilst waiting for further notification regarding my application, I keep translating John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty into Cantonese, so as to spread British philosophy as well as classical liberalism,” Laus remarked.
A reliable partner
Similarly to Leung, Laus said retaliation from China “would not be surprising” for Britain’s ‘interference’ in Hong Kong affairs as he called the Chinese Communist Party a “genocidal regime”.
Laus therefore called for sanctions against the country’s governing members, and he sees the UK as a reliable partner.
“The British government and MP’s really support Hong Kong’s democratic protesters through various measures, hence the UK is enormously reliable,” he said.
“I continue writing letters to prominent politicians in the UK, the US and the EU, so as to call on the liberal world to impose further sanctions against the Chinese Communist Party for violation of fundamental freedoms,” Laus concluded.