Saying No to BNOs: Hong Kong’s Latest Gambit, or the Chinese Communist Party’s Puppet?

April 10, 2021

3 min read

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What's going on here?

Hong Kong has demanded foreign jurisdictions not to accept a particular type of passport held by millions of Hong Kong nationals.

What does this mean?

Following the well-documented pro-Democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) imposed the new draconian National Security Law, which the UK considered to be a breach of the agreement made with China in 1997 when giving control of Hong Kong over to China.

As a consequence of the National Security Law, which grants China considerable control over the Hong Kong population, the 1997 agreement, known as the Joint Declaration, is now deemed to be under threat.

Following the passing of the law, “inciting hatred” of the CCP and Hong Kong’s SAR government became illegal; damaging public transport facilities tantamount to terrorism (relevant with regards to any pro-democracy demonstrations); internet providers were expected to dispense data when requested by police; and most shockingly, closed-door trials, wiretapping and the trial of suspects in mainland China, where the rule of law is considered questionable at best.

What's the big picture effect?

Britain’s response to the CCP’s controversial security law was to issue Hong Kong nationals who hold “British National (Overseas) Status” (BNO) an additional route with which they can move to the UK to live, study and work for five years. After that time, they may apply for British citizenship. This addition has been coined a “precious lifeboat” for those who wish to flee the problematic political developments in the city. Although this offer applies to 5.2 million people, the UK expects approximately 300,000 to emigrate to the UK within the next five years. BNO status also enables Hongkongers to move to other countries which recognise the status, including Japan, Canada, Germany and Australia. Hong Kong’s latest intervention, a letter requesting foreign consulates deny BNO documents from Hong Kong nationals, hopes to prohibit this new avenue for the city’s population to leave.

Reception of this news has ranged from relative nonchalance to declarations that the letter’s instruction borders upon “belligerent”. A western diplomat has stated that most recipients of the letter will ignore its demands, suggesting it is merely a political ploy by Hong Kong which has no authority to command what documents are accepted by foreign sovereign states. Indeed, officials from Japan, South Korea, Italy and New Zealand have all confirmed they will still recognise BNO passports for visas.

Hong Kong has historically been an international melting pot of finance, arbitration and law. However, recently this safe haven for commerce has been under threat from ever-growing Chinese and CCP influence, which has eroded what autonomy the state enjoyed. The threat of Chinese corruption has led to Hong Kong’s business kingdom being likely usurped by Singapore.

Beyond commerce, human rights activists have been incensed by this sentiment from the Hong Kong government. Although Hong Kong nationals can leave by alternative means, this represents a bid to stymie one avenue, which according to Benedict Rogers, Chief Executive of Hong Kong Watch, is “outrageous and wrong”.

It appears that this saga will continue, with both sides vehemently maintaining their discourse. Hong Kong and China endeavour to operate their renowned wolf warrior diplomacy, an aggressive style of foreign policy incorporating confrontational rhetoric. Meanwhile, any analysis of this saga points to Hong Kong acting as an extension of the CCP.

Report written by Matt Bryan

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