Tensions between the UK and China have escalated over recent weeks after Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed to offer millions of Hong Kong residents a path to UK citizenship if Beijing pushed ahead with a controversial security law for the semi-autonomous territory. The new legislation came into force yesterday.
Hundreds of people gathered outside the SOGO shopping centre to protest against the new legislation, which criminalises secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference.
In a historic first, a man was arrested for holding a Hong Kong independence flag in Causeway Bay, which police say violated the new National Security Law.
A woman has also been arrested for showing Hong Kong independence material, according to the Hong Kong Police Force Twitter feed.
Reports say pepper spray was fired by police multiple times and Democratic Party legislator Andrew Wan also appeared to be arrested.
The new law was drafted behind closed doors by members of Beijing’s top lawmaking body, the National People’s Congress (NPC), bypassing Hong Kong’s own elected legislative council.
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Reports claim a secretive national security committee for Hong Kong will be established inside the city.
People who are convicted of such crimes can face sentences up to life in prison.
As unrest begins in the former British colony, the Express.co.uk is asking, “Should the UK challenge Beijing?”
Boris Johnson could introduce harsher sanctions on China or even make a speech condemning the move.
Protests have erupted across Hong Kong
Hong Kong citizens protest the legislation
This comes after the Human Rights Watch called for Britain to “finally get tough” on China over Hong Kong.
Sophie Richardson, China director at the HRW, wrote: “The UK government is currently conducting a major review of its approach to foreign policy – it should include a review of the failure of its Hong Kong policy and of Beijing to respect its autonomy.
“Now that UK politicians are finally asking tough questions about the role of China’s government in global affairs, the future of Hong Kong and its people should be the front and centre of UK-China policy.”
Ms Richardson admitted it is not “easy to stand up to China” over the Hong Kong issue but said the UK does have options.
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Hong Kong protest timeline
She continued: “The UK should convene like-minded allies to coordinate responses for the September elections in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council to deter further manipulations by Beijing to erode support for pro-democracy parties.
“The UK’s decision on residence for some Hong Kong people is welcome, though it requires more detail.
“The government should also offer safe haven to people who face politicised prosecution in Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam welcomed the new legislation and said: “Safeguarding national security is the constitutional duty of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR).
Hong Kong legislation came into force yesterday
“The HKSAR Government welcomes the passage of the national security law by the NPCSC today.
“I am confident that after the implementation of the national security law, the social unrest which has troubled Hong Kong people for nearly a year will be eased and stability will be restored, thereby enabling Hong Kong to start anew, focus on economic development and improve people’s livelihood.”
Last month, the Chinese-state run newspaper. The Global Times, warned the UK could face ‘substantial damage’ to the economy after Mr Johnson stood up to Beijing.
The nationalist tabloid wrote: “British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government may sincerely believe they are battling for their values as they confront China over the national security law for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, when in fact they are complicating a much-needed deal, threatening to inflict substantial damage on their own economy.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam welcome legislation
“One more thing British politicians may be mistaken about is which country needs the free trade agreement more.
“The coronavirus has hit the UK hard, and it is currently suffering its worst peacetime downturn in centuries.”
According to figures, more than 350,000 Hong Kong citizen hold British National Overseas passports, a legacy of the colonial era.
Up to 2.5 million others are also eligible to apply for them, according to Mr Johnson.
In response to China’s new legislation in Hong Kong, Mr Johnson said Britain would allow holders of the BNO passports to remain for 12 months on a renewable basis and would grant them the right to work, placing them on a possible path to UK citizenship.
Currently, BNO passport holders currently can stay in the UK for only up to six months.
Back in 1997, Hong Kong was transferred back to Beijing but maintained a separate governing and economic system compared to mainland China.