- It’s an unlikely scenario, but suppose it did happen: those dissatisfied with Hong Kong would have a new home, while others who want to live here – including many from southern China – would be an infusion of new blood
Hong Kong people who hold British National (Overseas) passports deserve residency in the United Kingdom. While neither Britain nor China wants that, the former has a moral responsibility and the latter would benefit from such an arrangement.
Unfortunately, it's one of those things that people can debate indefinitely and yet is unlikely to ever happen. British citizens who voted for Brexit because of anti-immigrant sentiments would not want to exchange central European workers for Chinese from Hong Kong.
But there are always a few former British officials who raise it periodically, either out of guilt or virtue-signalling.
The latest is former British attorney general Peter Goldsmith QC, who said granting residency based on BN(O) status would not breach the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
His claim contradicts the position of the British government. As the main author of a 2008 government review on citizenship, Goldsmith's claim carries tremendous legal weight. It has taken him a while to speak up though. Former Democratic Party leader Martin Lee Chu-ming has long argued that as colonial subjects, Hong Kong people should have been allowed to live in the UK. After all, Macau residents born before the 1999 handover can apply for residency in Portugal.
Beijing, of course, takes a dim view of the idea. As far as it is concerned, Hong Kong people are Chinese subjects. And if Hong Kong is run properly with stability and prosperity guaranteed, why would anyone want to emigrate? Well, things have not turned out as planned.
After eight months of unprecedented violent protests, followed by a potential pandemic, Hong Kong is on the verge of being ungovernable. Under the current political system, it's unlikely it will ever produce a credible administration with enough legitimacy to govern. "One country, two systems", once set up to maintain public confidence, has created this impasse that seems impossible to break.
But suppose BN(O) passport holders are able to emigrate to the UK en masse. These would be people most dissatisfied with the Hong Kong and central governments and have lost hope in the city's future. The population vacuum created could only be filled by migrants, say, from the wealthier southern Chinese cities. Such a transformation of Hong Kong into "just another mainland city" could well resolve the problem of ungovernability. With the full economic engine of the Greater Bay Area behind it, Hong Kong may revive socially and economically.
An unlikely scenario, but not a bad one!
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