It was reported on Friday that the United Kingdom plans to go ahead with a law which will allow “British National Overseas Passport Holders” (BNO) and their dependents in Hong Kong a fast pathway towards total citizenship. Whilst over 300,000 already hold such a passport, up to three million may be eligible for it. The scheme was proposed following the imposition of the national security law for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) this June, which deals with political subversion, terrorism and separatism in the city. Britain has claimed that the law violates the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong, and has responded with this. China has argued that the scheme constitutes meddling in its internal affairs, and has pledged countermeasures which may involve not recognizing such passports as valid travel documents.
Presented as an act of so-called “British benevolence” and targeted at those allegedly “fleeing persecution and oppression” – Britain’s passport offer is in fact a violation of China’s national sovereignty as it seeks to broaden its jurisdiction over the residents of Hong Kong and attempting to undermine the authority of local government by offering them a pathway to citizenship in another country, in which is inherently political. In doing so, Britain continues to advocate the mindset that China has no legitimate sovereign rights over Hong Kong, nevertheless those who take up the offer will not be as many as London anticipates, as the UK overestimates its attractiveness as a destination.
Key to understanding Britain’s perception of events in Hong Kong is how it sees itself, in a drawn contrast to China as a whole. The United Kingdom has traditionally portrayed itself as a “benevolent,” “enlightened,” and morally superior nation which believes, as it did in the old imperial days, that its role in the world is inherently doing a service to other people.
As a result of this dichotomy, it frames its position in Hong Kong not as an offset of Imperialism whereby the British Empire sought to advance its economic interests on China by force, but instead as an act of altruism and saviourism. Thus, it offers no apology for its historical atrocities, but continues to believe in its supremacy and “obligations” to the city, hence why former colonial governor Chris Patten has appeared so prominently on the issue.