On Friday, one of Hong Kong's most prominent democracy activists announced that he had fled the city two days after a new national security law was introduced in Hong Kong.
"No Hong Kong man has the illusion that Beijing intends to respect our fundamental rights and keep its promises to us," tweeted Nathan Law, who has played a leading role in democracy-friendly activism since his role in Hong Kong in 2014. "So I said goodbye to my city."
Law, who left for an as yet unknown location, was perhaps Hong Kong's first public emigrant from the time of security law. Others can follow him.
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Beijing's new comprehensive national security law in Hong Kong aims to arrest and prosecute those accused of compromising China's national security through subversion, secession, terrorism, or collusion with foreign forces. Critics see it as falling short of the promised autonomy of Hong Kong, suppressing protests against Beijing and wiping out free civil society, which sets Hong Kong apart from its mainland counterparts.
Since Beijing introduced the law in May, thousands of Hong Kongers have requested foreign immigration documents. Immigration advisers in Hong Kong report that the number of cases has doubled since the legislative proposal.
A man looks across the harbor towards the Hong Kong island skyline in 2019. Hong Kong residents considering leaving the city may have plenty of opportunities for resettlement as the nations try to welcome them. DALE DE LA REY / AFP via Getty Images
Hong Kong is particularly ripe for mass exodus due to its large population of double passport holders. In the city of 7.5 million residents, an estimated 90% of the city's 300,000 Canadian passport holders also have two passports for Hong Kong and Canada.
As some Hong Kongers consider leaving the country, more and more countries are preparing to receive them. At least five nations have taken steps since the law was introduced to welcome individuals and families leaving Hong Kong. Almost all measures are to be understood as acts of goodwill, but most of the countries that report are also in conflict with the Chinese central government. Providing shelter may benefit Hong Kongers, but it is also another means of striking Beijing.
Here are the five measures:
Hong Kong's former colonialist is the most distant way to offer Hong Kong citizens a permanent way to move out of the city.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday that his government would push ahead with plans to give up to 3 million Hong Kong citizens the chance to obtain British citizenship. The UK government has announced that more details of the law will be released "in due course".
Policy will focus on the British National Overseas (BNO) population in Hong Kong. BNOs are based in Hong Kong and applied for status prior to the 1997 handover. Previously, they had the right to travel to the UK for six months without a visa. The UK government is now saying that BNOs can live and work in the UK for five years and then have the opportunity to apply for full citizenship.
There are currently 350,000 active BNO passport holders in Hong Kong, and around 2.5 million more are eligible in Hong Kong
China, for its part, argues that the change in British politics has undermined international law and praised retaliation.
"The UK has explicitly agreed not to grant Chinese residents in Hong Kong who hold BNO travel documents a right of residence," said Zhao Lijian, spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry, on Thursday. "China strongly condemns this and reserves the right to react further, the consequences of which are to be borne by the British side."
Hours after the national security law came into force on Wednesday, a group of non-partisan lawmakers introduced the Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act, which would force the U.S. State Department to grant refugee status to Hong Kong residents who took part in the protests and feared government reprisals .
In a separate bill released on Tuesday, U.S. lawmakers urged to speed up admissions and permanent residence procedures for highly skilled Hong Kong residents, including entrepreneurs, advanced graduates, and those who had previously studied in the United States.
However, Hong Kong residents wishing to flee to the United States may face delays. None of the laws have been passed, and the U.S. government has largely stopped immigration for the rest of 2020 due to COVID-19.
On Wednesday, the Taiwanese government set up an office in its capital, Taipei, specifically designed to help Hong Kong residents migrate to Taiwan. At the opening ceremony on Wednesday, Taiwan officials said they hope to use the office to help asylum seekers who flee the persecution in Hong Kong and to attract capital and highly skilled workers to Taiwan.
"A lot has changed in (Hong Kong) since 1997," Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said on June 30 on Twitter. "But (Taiwan's) commitment to support (Hong Kong) people who want freedom and democracy has never changed."
At the ceremony, officials declined to comment on how many asylum cases they have received.
A spokesman for the Chinese government has described Taiwan's measures to create a safe haven for Hong Kongers as an attempt to "sabotage Hong Kong's prosperity and stability," and warned that "placing rioters in Hong Kong will only cause problems for Taiwanese".
At a press conference on Thursday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government was considering offering a safe haven to Hong Kong residents. He said the government was considering options similar to the UK's offer to provide Hong Kong residents with long-term residence and ways of becoming a citizen.
The Morrison government has not yet made a final policy decision, but he said Thursday, "Are we ready to support the Hong Kong people? The answer is yes."
In response, China spokesman Zhao warned Australia "not to interfere in Hong Kong's domestic affairs" and "not to go the wrong way".
Japan's efforts to help Hong Kongers are fully focused on the city's financial professionals. In early June, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stressed the need for Japan to attract more financial talent to boost its own economy, and suggested that the government would try to attract Hong Kong financiers and other professionals while Beijing imposed national security law.
On Thursday, the Abe government began considering measures that include tax breaks and permanent residence abbreviations for Hong Kong's financial professionals.
A history of mass migration
The prospect of mass migration from Hong Kong recalls the years before the city was handed over. Britain and China agreed in 1985 to the 1997 handover, which brought Hong Kong back under Chinese rule. In the intervening years there was an exodus of Hong Kong residents. Between 1988 and 1994, an estimated 250,000 to 1 million Hong Kongians left the city, which, according to Encylopedia of Immigrant Health, corresponds to an average of 55,000 departures per year. (In the early 1980s, the city had an average of 20,000 emigration cases per year.)
In the run-up to the handover, many Hong Kong residents feared that Beijing would not keep its promises and restrict the city's freedoms and institutions. Some Hong Kongers who left before the handover returned later when they saw that Hong Kong had largely preserved its autonomy.
The number of Hong Kong emigrants dropped to 6,000 to 7,000 in 2010 after the handover, but the new Beijing law could stimulate further movement.
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