Hong Kong is a powder keg ready to explode – but it’s events happening off the island that make it so volatile

Offering passports to Hong Kongers is no different to Putin offering them to Ukrainians. The UK would be wise to tread carefully with this strategy, says Mary Dejevsky

Thursday 02 July 2020 23:33
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A pro-democracy demonstrator raises his British national overseas passports during a protest against new national security legislation in Hong Kong
A pro-democracy demonstrator raises his British national overseas passports during a protest against new national security legislation in Hong Kong

So far, the crisis that has Hong Kong at its centre is not as bad as it could be, just almost as bad. But it could be about to get worse. This danger stems from the passage of a new Hong Kong security law by China, the UK government’s offer of resettlement to as many as 3 million Hong Kongers, and the decision of the United States, in pre-election mode, to use Hong Kong as a weapon in its much bigger argument with China. Each of these elements would carry a risk; together they become incendiary.

Here in the UK, there are two distinct ways of looking at developments in and around Hong Kong, which are sometimes allowed to overlap, but shouldn’t be. On the one hand, there is what might be called the values-based view. It is often articulated by the ever-available last governor of Hong Kong, Lord Patten, who now predicts the “end” of the island’s distinct way of life, lambasts Beijing for violating the handover treaty and demands mostly unspecified tough action from the UK government. He has a supporting chorus in a growing band of China-sceptics in parliament.

Then there is what you might term the realist view – which begins by looking at the map. Were Beijing to decide that, on balance and for whatever reasons, its interests were best served by forcing its brand of order on Hong Kong, there is very little that anyone – in Hong Kong, the UK, or the rest of the world – could, or probably would, do. By all means use what leverage you have, but recognise that it is very small.

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