China has lashed out at the UK over its criticism of Beijing’s planned national security law for Hong Kong, warning it to “step back from the brink” and “abandon” its “cold war mentality”.
“Interfering in Hong Kong’s affairs” will “definitely backfire” said Zhao Lijian, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, according to news agency AFP.
He added the UK should “step back from the brink” and “recognise and respect the fact that Hong Kong has returned” to China.
UK-China relations have rapidly deteriorated over the past week, following China’s move to implement the law against separatism and subversion of state power in Hong Kong. Although details of the law are yet to be settled, Beijing has a precedent of using similar legislation to silence human rights lawyers and journalists on the mainland.
UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab had previously angered Beijing by offering to “provide a pathway to future citizenship” to almost 3m Hong Kong residents who hold British Nationals (Overseas) status in the event the national security law is passed.
The row over Mr Raab’s offer comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces pressure from his own MPs to take a tougher stance on Beijing, following concerns that Beijing intentionally downplayed the initial scale of the coronavirus outbreak.
Last Friday, Mr Zhao struck back at Mr Raab’s offer, warning that if the “UK unilaterally changes its approach” on the matter of British overseas nationals, China would “resolutely oppose” and “reserve the right to use appropriate countermeasures”. China does not recognise dual nationality.
Mr Johnson published an opinion piece late on Tuesday reiterating Mr Raab’s offer, saying that if the national security legislation was passed “Britain could not in good conscience shrug our shoulders and walk away; instead we will honour our obligations and provide an alternative”.
Mr Raab had earlier criticised the new law in the House of Commons, saying “there is time for China to reconsider, there is a moment for China to step back from the brink and respect Hong Kong’s autonomy”.
After Hong Kong was handed back to China from British rule in 1997, Beijing promised the UK that it would implement a “one country, two systems” framework and allow the region a “high degree of autonomy”.
British Nationals (Overseas) passport holders can currently only stay in the UK for six months at a time. BNO passports were issued to Hong Kong residents born before the handover of the territory from UK to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.
Mr Zhao alleged that Mr Raab’s offer broke the terms of a memorandum offered by the UK to China in 1997, in which the UK said it would not grant right of abode to BNO passport holders.