China on Thursday told the UK to stop “interfering” in its affairs, warning it would “bear all consequences” of its actions after Britain offered residency to millions of Hong Kong citizens.
At a press briefing in Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said: “China strongly condemns this and reserves the right to take further measures. The British side will bear all the consequences.”
A day earlier, the UK confirmed that new arrangements will be put in place for overseas British nationals in Hong Kong following China’s imposition of a national security law on the region.
The new “bespoke” immigration rules will allow eligible citizens to live and work in the UK for longer – up to five years – and then give them a path towards full British citizenship. The offer is open to 2.9 million people in Hong Kong.
In a statement, Liu Xioaming, Beijing’s ambassador to the UK, said all Chinese people living in Hong Kong “are Chinese nationals, whether or not they are holders of the British dependent territories citizens passport or the British national (overseas) passport.”
“If the British side makes unilateral changes to the relevant practice, it will breach its own position and pledges, as well as international law and basic norms governing international relations,” he said.
“We firmly oppose this and reserve the right to take corresponding measures. We urge the British side to view objectively and fairly the national security legislation for Hong Kong, respect China’s position and concerns, refrain from interfering in Hong Kong affairs in any way.”
He stressed that the UK has “no sovereignty, jurisdiction or right of ‘supervision’ over Hong Kong.”
On Wednesday, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab conceded that Britain could do little to “coercively force” China to allow eligible citizens in Hong Kong to move to the UK.
Asked by local media what the UK could do if China blocked people from moving to the UK, Raab said: “Ultimately if they follow through on something like that, there would be little that we could do to coercively force them.”
“I wouldn’t want to be naive about this; I think we need to be realistic. But I do think that China as a rising, leading member of the international community is sensitive to the reputational risk in all of this, but clearly not sufficiently that it hasn’t proceeded anyway,” he said.
Referring to diplomatic leverage, he said there were other ways for the UK to “persuade China not to fully implement either the national security law or some of the reprisals.”
“But ultimately, we need to be honest that we wouldn’t be able to force China to allow BNOs [British Nationals Overseas] to come to the UK,” he said.
Raab added that the UK was working with other countries in the region to help people in Hong Kong: “We think the majority will probably hunker down in Hong Kong, and others would leave to other countries in the region.”
Since the imposition of the new law, there has been a harsh police crackdown on protests in Hong Kong, with hundreds arrested for attending demonstrations and raising pro-independence flags and banners.
China’s ambassador to the UK was also summoned to the British Foreign Office on Wednesday and told that the new legislation breaches the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1997.
Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous region under China since 1997, has witnessed protests since last year against a move to legalize extradition to mainland China.