The UK started from Sunday implementing new policies to accept citizenship applications for Hong Kong residents who possess British National (Overseas) [BN(O)] passports. The Chinese Foreign Ministry and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government have announced they will "no longer recognize this passport as a valid travel document or for identification" starting from Sunday.
In June 2020, after the national security law for Hong Kong was passed, the UK threatened to open a new channel for Hong Kong residents to enter the UK to study and work and eventually apply for British citizenship. Now the UK is putting its threats into actions.
Before Sunday, according to the British government, BN(O) passport holders "can stay in the UK as a visitor for up to six months without a visa," but they are "subject to immigration control and, as a visitor, do not have the right to live, work or take up long-term study" in the country. Under the new rules, BN(O) passport holders and their close family members can apply to enter or stay in the UK for a period of five years, and they are "able to apply for settlement after five years if they meet the requirements."
Western media estimates there are about 2.9 million Hong Kong residents who are eligible to apply for the new BN(O) visa, and there would be a total of 5 million Hongkongers if BN(O) holders' family members are counted. But obviously not all of them would go and stay in the UK. If too many BN(O) holders enter and stay in the UK but they cannot make a living there, the UK may probably not be able to sustain such a burden.
London has actually repeatedly deduced what will happen. They believe about 300,000 Hong Kong residents will go to the UK with their money within five years. This will not create an immigration impact but bring capital flow into the UK - thus they think it will be beneficial to the country.
However, although the economic consequences of immigration triggered by the BN(O) visa are important to the UK, these will not have long-term effect on China, a mega economy. There may be some short-term effects, but they are not insurmountable. Moreover, the departure of some people who are not willing to build a better Hong Kong is not worth the anxiety of HKSAR government and the rest of China.
The UK is arguably experiencing one of its hardest times in history. It has been hit heavily by the COVID-19 epidemic with the leading number of COVID-19 deaths in Europe. The key elements that sustain the UK's national strength in the long term are shrinking. Brexit was a manifestation of the UK's overall hesitation and anxiety.
Frankly, today's Britain is not capable of holding the West's banner to actively find fault with China's Hong Kong affairs. London is asking to be humiliated if it cannot tell the trend of the times and engages in political shows that provoke China.
Western media outlets point an accusing figure at Hong Kong affairs. But some people in the West are introspecting - they realize that Hong Kong was in a mess before and the national security law for Hong Kong is an inevitable move to restore stability in the city. These people know the West's intervention was nothing more than a gesture, which cannot make the Chinese central government or the HKSAR government budge over their decisions. Besides, US pressure on Hong Kong is a tactic to turn the city into a pawn in the games with China.
An important reality is that Hong Kong is getting rid of the cloud of unrest that broke out in 2019. The national security law for Hong Kong has gradually led the city toward peace. And this will change the scenario in which outside forces interfere in Hong Kong affairs. The UK will lose more political points if it keeps the accusing finger pointing up at Hong Kong affairs. As time goes on, the only value left for Britain's efforts will be to please and cooperate with the US' strategy.
The UK should be careful not to lose itself as Australia has and turn itself into an appendage of the US when it bangs the drum for the US. At least in its stance toward China, people can clearly see that the UK is constantly reshaped by the US. Britain's autonomy is now far less than that of many of the US' Asian allies.
Several years ago, the UK stated that China-UK relations were in a "Golden Era." But now London is more like a puppet of Washington. It is abandoning its own international influence while missing simultaneously some potential important opportunities.
So far, the West has implemented very small-scale sanctions over Hong Kong. There have obviously been more words than real actions. It is hoped that the UK can regain and keep a clear head about what it is. It will be pathetic if the UK still believes it is a cannon but instead turns out to be cannon fodder for the US. In addition, we want to ask the UK not to focus only on politics and victimizing those who have lived a good life in the Hong Kong SAR and were tricked into moving to the UK.