Riot police in Hong Kong. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ ANTHONY KWAN
Riot police in Hong Kong. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ ANTHONY KWAN

London — UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab warned on Thursday that the government would open a path to citizenship for 300,000 Hong Kong residents unless China backs down on its planned security law.

Raab said visa rights will be extended for British National (Overseas) passport holders as the dispute with Beijing over the reforms to Hong Kong residents’ rights escalated.

The minister said he was making the move after China formally announced their decision “to impose security legislation on the people of Hong Kong”. Britain, the US, Canada and Australia issued a joint statement urging China to halt its plans.

“We are deeply troubled about this step,” Raab said in a pooled television interview Thursday. “What we now would like to see is China just pause for thought and step back from this step, reconsider and above all live up to its international obligations.”

In defiance of US President Donald Trump, Chinese legislators approved a new national security law for Hong Kong, a measure that democracy advocates say will limit essential freedoms in the former British colony.

The UK government says the new law violates the autonomy and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong, in breach of international treaty commitments.

A key question for the UK is how to help the 300,000 people in Hong Kong who have British National (Overseas) passports. The foreign secretary said the UK will offer them a haven if Beijing does not back down.

These BN (O) passport holders have the right to come to the UK for six months. “If China continues down this path and implements this national security legislation, we will change that status,” Raab said.

“We will remove that six month limit and allow those BN (O) passport holders to come to the UK and to apply to work and study for extendable periods of 12 months — and that will itself provide a pathway to future citizenship.”