A senior Chinese diplomat has warned the UK there will be “consequences” if it goes ahead with plans to offer millions of Hongkongers the chance of citizenship.
China’s recently voted in a controversial security law for Hong Kong which critics say will strip the territory of its autonomy.
In response, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the UK is ready to open the door to almost three million Hong Kong citizens if China presses ahead with the law by effectively upgrading the status of British National (Overseas) passports to grant immigration rights beyond the current six-month limit.
But Chen Wen, Minister and First Staff Member of the Chinese Embassy in the UK, told the BBC that there will be “consequences” if the UK goes ahead with this, although she said it was not a threat.
“Let’s wait and see, there will be consequences, that’s for sure,” she said.
Separately, Lord Chris Patten, the last colonial governor of Hong Kong, called on the UK and like-minded nations to band together to defend against pressure from China and “reset” global relations with Beijing.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party should not be allowed to “get away indefinitely with bullying and hectoring and breaking the rules,” Mr Patten said Friday.
It sets “a very, very bad historical precedent if you allow the schoolyard bully to bully you one at a time.”
Instead, nations should decide together that “we don’t deal with this nasty regime,” he said, denouncing leader “Xi Jinping and his mafioso” for shrinking freedoms in Hong Kong. But “it does mean we have to work together.”
Mr Patten also urged the UK to review its policies in trade, investment, education and more and devise a plan “to make sure that in these areas China keeps its word, and also try to decide on those areas where we’ve gone too far in being dependent on China.”
He has previously called for a United Nations special envoy to be appointed to defend human rights in Hong Kong.
Mr Patten’s remarks come as representatives from nine parliaments, including the UK, launched an alliance focused specifically to encourage governments to adopt a tougher approach toward China, a move that will likely sour Beijing further against Western nations.
“No nation should be able to freely jeopardise global values and human rights,” the alliance said in a statement. “If our voices are united in this, we will send a much stronger signal.”
The alliance also said that China’s “increasingly aggressive foreign policy” – meddling in democratic systems, attempting to influence foreign politicians, conducting cyberattacks abroad – has to end before countries could continue building bilateral relations.
The group aims to affect policy involving China in the areas of human rights, trade, security, national integrity, and to uphold a rules-based international order, starting by pushing legislation in their jurisdictions to combat the treatment of ethnic Uighurs, many of whom have been detained in “re-education” camps in China’s far western Xinjiang region.
The UK’s participation in the alliance comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered a review of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei’s role in building the country’s 5G networks. A wave of other security and undue influence concerns have also been raised over Chinese involvement in key infrastructure projects, such as energy plants, and on university campuses.
“It is natural for big powers to compete. But it is their capacity for cooperation that is the true test of statecraft, and it will determine whether humanity makes progress on global problems such as climate change, nuclear proliferation, and the spread of infectious diseases,” wrote Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien-Loong in an op-ed published in Foreign Affairs.
The US-China battle will eventually force countries in the Asia Pacific region, already nervous about Beijing’s territorial ambitions, to pick a side. Nations in the area will “always see China’s naval presence as an attempt to advance those claims” in the South China Sea.
The US security presence “remains vital to the Asia-Pacific region,” and China would be unable to take over that role in Southeast Asia even with its increasing military might, he said, with a candour unlikely to be welcomed in Beijing.
He added that a US withdrawal in North Asia would compel Japan and South Korea to contemplate developing nuclear weapons to counter North Korea’s growing threat.