British Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised Wednesday that the U.K. will admit up to nearly 3 million people from Hong Kong if China carries out a controversial new security law asserting its authority in the semi-autonomous city.
The plan, outlined in a column in the pages of The Times of London, would represent a historic change to the British visa system.
Tensions between the London and Beijing are boiling after China moved to institute a new national security rule that could curb public speech and criminalize so-called international interference.
Democracy activists say the move would undercut the “one country, two systems” agreement that sets the terms for the former British colony.
“Hong Kong succeeds because its people are free,” Johnson said in his column.
Hong Kong returned to China’s control in 1997, but it maintains unique political freedoms. The new law was greeted last month with an eruption of protests in Hong Kong.
Johnson said that if China proceeds, people in Hong Kong would be allowed to come to Britain on renewable 12-month terms, with the right to work and a path to citizenship.
“If it proves necessary, the British government will take this step and take it willingly,” the 55-year-old leader wrote. “Many people in Hong Kong fear that their way of life — which China pledged to uphold — is under threat. If China proceeds to justify their fears, then Britain could not in good conscience shrug our shoulders and walk away.”
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