Written by Catarina Rogado, Ambassador to Groningen
“Patriots ruling Hong Kong”,
A statement made last month by the Director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office poses a relevant question for young Hong Kong protestors. As the region’s socio-political disruptions continue, is there a brighter future awaiting British National Overseas BN(O) passport holders in the UK?
The most recent youth demonstrations dating back to 2019 call for the maintenance of social and political rights embedded into the Hong Kong Basic Law, which secures its citizen’s freedom of speech, press, association, assembly, and demonstration (Article 27º HK Basic Law). In 1997, the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ policy designed by the late Deng Xiaoping was set to maintain the region’s freedoms while still transitioning from British to Chinese Sovereignty. However, and as deconstructed by Victoria Hui, political disruption has been taking place in the region for years, where contentious politics take place with little achievements for political freedom.
The protests have one common trigger: The Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The violence and frustration emerging from several factions of society clashes with the central government, as people’s freedoms are put on a tighter grip after the announcement of the National Security Law. Enacting this law means that any action deemed as secession, subversion or terrorism can be criminalised, putting the protesters in a highly delicate position. What are the implications for BN(O) passport holders amidst a global pandemic and China’s Nationality Law? One could argue the CCP has concerns that go beyond Hong Kong due to the ongoing pandemic and sense of diplomatic distrust. Nevertheless, even among calls for inspection on the origins of the pandemic, there is still an agenda ready to curb Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.
The Chinese Nationality Rule exposes the current agenda regarding UK-targeted migration. Any Hong Konger who settles abroad is guaranteed to lose their Chinese nationality (Cheng, 2021) and since the BN(O) can open a path to gain British nationality, applicants are faced with a double-edged sword. Either Escaping political disruptions and losing their rights to permanent residency in Hong Kong, or staying and settling.
Quality of Life
From the point of view of a young student, the benefits for Hong Kong’s youth migration surface as unbearable housing prices and socio-political turmoil all together set the odds for a loss in life quality standards. The latter including the economic sphere, day-to-day life and societal polarisation as pro-democracy supporters collide with pro-government. Depression and PTSD also play a significant role, since 2019/20 data points to a 11.9% probability of mental health disturbances as opposed to the corresponding 1.9% between 2009-2014 (Ni, 2020). Hence, the UK could step in to provide the quality of life that the Mainland is not yet able to grant to pro-democracy Hong Kongers.
In an article by Daniel Shek, several factors are highlight that are said to influence quality of life in the region during the protests Despite the noticeable pro-government tendency, the author exposes spheres such as economic strains, distrust towards the central government and lack of identification with the Chinese identity that constitute important migration triggers. While Britain strategically manages Brexit and covid-recovery, it announced new measures to allow access to public funding to BN(O) passport holders in need, which will hopefully lead to an ease of extreme poverty upon arrival (Westbrook, 2021).
It is then a matter of weighing the pros and cons of migrating or staying. If we compare the possibilities and offerings from both Britain and the Mainland, the odds strongly point to Britain as a light at the end of the tunnel for pro-democracy fighters. However, there are several steps to take into consideration before applying for the special visa scheme. Namely, the birth year requirement and the visa’s overall affordability being the major concerns as prices reach up to thousands of pounds per individual aiming for the 5-year stay that later enables access to permanent residency. The first requirement automatically disables anyone born after 1997, as they are not eligible for the BN(O) status. Whereas the second involves a series of process-related costs that rule out less privileged factions of society. On the other hand, the possible option for the alleviation of poverty might bring some security to those who cannot afford the move without becoming penniless.
This problem comes down to te Asian Governance or the Chinese Challenge, as mentioned in Mark Thompson’s article – avoiding democracy to boost economic development and consequently limiting political freedoms. To what extent is it all worth it for the new generations? Especially considering how different the reality is for young Hong Kongers when compared to young Mainlanders. Globalisation and the spread of a human rights-oriented consciousness has prompted the financial hub’s young generation to fight for more than what meets the eye. The extent to which Beijing is willing to meddle with the region’s jurisdiction to keep people from leaving leaves space to wonder what can happen after 2047, the year that the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ policy officially expires.
“I’ve started my new life here. I won’t come back while the communists are still in power.”
- Cheng, K. (2021, February 25). China’s Nationality Law is a Cage for Hong Kongers. Foreign Policy. Retrieved from https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/02/25/china-hong-kong-nationality-law-british-national-overseas-passport-visa/
- Cooper, C. & Gallardo, C. (2021, March 1). UK not prepared for Hong Kong migration. Retrieved from https://www.politico.eu/article/hong-kong-weigh-up-new-life-in-brexit-britain-uk/
- Ho, K. (2021, February 23). Hong Kong’s Lam says China’s patriots-only rule is not meant to exclude democrats from politics. Hong Kong Free Press. Retrieved from https://hongkongfp.com/2021/02/23/hong-kongs-lam-says-chinas-patriots-only-rule-is-not-meant-to-exclude-democrats-from-politics/
- Hong Kong: Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. (1997). Retrieved from https://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b53d0.html
- Hui, V. (2020). Crackdown: Hong Kong faces Tiananmen 2.0. Journal of Democracy, 31(4), 122–137
- Ni, Y., Yao, I., Leung, M., Yau, C., Leung, C., Lun, P., & Leung, M. (2020). Depression and post-traumatic stress during major social unrest in Hong Kong: a 10-year prospective cohort study. Lancet. 395(10220), 273–284. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(19)33160-5
- Shek, D. (2020). Protests in Hong Kong (2019-2020): A Perspective Based on Quality of Life and Well-Being. Applied Research in Quality of Life, 1–17. Advance Online Publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11482-020-09825-2
- Thompson, M. (2001). ‘Whatever Happened to “Asian Values”?’, Journal of Democracy. 12(4), 154–165 http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/journal_of_democracy/v012/12.4thompson.html.
- Westbrook, L. (2021, March 5). Penniless Hong Kong BN(O) visa holders in Britain could be given financial aid under modified immigration policy. South China Morning Post. Retrieved from https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3124295/penniless-hong-kong-bno-visa-holders-britain-could-be-given
- Wright, R. (2021, February 16). UK visa offer to Hong Kongers fails to help thousands wanting to flee. Financial Times. Retrieved from https://www.ft.com/content/c66d7bb6-6f1d-42be-9c2d-6787db055900