As China continues to crack down on the rights of Hong Kongers, the United Kingdom, assisted by many churches, is providing an alternative to their oppression.
Hong Kong once experienced great freedom, but growing oppression by the Chinese government has led many to look for a way out of the city. The U.K., which handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997, has offered to provide 5.4 million Hong Kongers with visas that would include a path to citizenship. A website has been launched to provide assistance for those Hong Kongers who may not have family and friends in the U.K. and need help adjusting. Over 500 churches have joined the initiative to provide assistance.
The website, which is available in English and Cantonese, was launched by Home for Good founder Krish Kandiah with the help of the Bishop of London, Dame Sarah Mullally. The website offers guides on various aspects of adjusting to life in the U.K., including information on housing, doctors, schools, neighbors, churches, and activities.
“Moving continents is difficult at the best of times but it is particularly challenging during a global pandemic. That’s why we want to welcome the new arrivals here today in the centre of London, conjuring the spirit of the 2012 Olympics, and show off the best of Great Britain. In normal times, we would also have liked to put on special events, like concerts, dances, poetry recitals, film screenings, park football matches, picnics, and supper clubs. As it is, we will have to make do with Zoom calls and virtual bonding for now.”
Hong Kong was originally part of China but became a colony of the U.K. in 1848 after the First Opium War. In 1898, the U.K. agreed to return the territory to China in 99 years, on the condition that the territory would operate as “one country, two systems,” allowing Hong Kong to retain the freedom it enjoyed under the British. Particularly after World War II, Hong Kong enjoyed economic freedom and grew to become the world’s most prosperous and freest economy. The U.K. returned Hong Kong to China in 1997, but China soon began limiting its freedoms, particularly in the last few years where all pretense of the “one country, two systems” agreement has been abandoned.
While the U.K. has expressed outrage at China’s violation of the agreement, China asserts that Hong Kong was never free under the rule of the U.K. and interference by Western nations is an attempt to violate its sovereignty. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said,
“The British side’s interference in Hong Kong affairs and undermining of Hong Kong’s rule of law under the pretext of democracy and freedom is just an old trick of the colonists, who habitually apply double standards to stir up troubles in another country. It was not until Hong Kong’s return to China that the residents in Hong Kong have enjoyed unprecedented democratic rights and freedoms.”
“I want to stress that the Chinese government governs Hong Kong in accordance with the Constitution and the Basic Law, and it has nothing to do with the Sino-British Joint Declaration. With Hong Kong’s return to China, all the rights and obligations related to the British side under the Sino-British Joint Declaration have been completed. The British side has neither the right to supervise Hong Kong nor moral responsibility towards Hong Kong whatsoever.”
China may claim Hong Kong only experienced freedom post-1997, but reality says otherwise. As Richard W. Rahn writes, after World War II the U.K. took a hands-off approach with Hong Kong, allowing it great economic freedom. Due to a “competent government, honest court system with the rule of law,” basic infrastructure, and economic freedom, Hong Kong became the world’s freest economy for decades.
Heritage rated Hong Kong as the freest economy in the world every year between 1995 and 2019. Unfortunately, since the Chinese began exercising ever greater control, it has slipped to second in the rankings. It is also no longer the third-largest financial center, but has dropped to sixth. Fitch and Moody’s have also downgraded Hong Kong’s credit twice since 2019.
It’s not just rankings and financial numbers that show the Chinese government is living in an alternate reality, but the people of Hong Kong. Approximately 300,000 citizens are expected to take the U.K.’s offer of a visa to flee Hong Kong.
According to one survey, the number could be much higher. Hong Kongers in Britain (HKB) issued a survey that found that more than 600,000 people could move to the U.K. in the first three years. Not only are these people trying to leave Hong Kong, but they want to do so quickly. Four out of five of those surveyed said they want to immigrate to the U.K. within two years.
The Chinese are showing what restricting free speech and civil liberties, surveilling citizens, and targeting political opponents can do to a place even as prosperous as Hong Kong.
For perspective, Hong Kongers may find the U.K. significantly less free than Hong Kong used to be as the U.K. is currently ranked 7th on Heritage’s economic freedom index (the U.S. is 17th. Yet Chinese oppression and terror is such that Hong Kong is no longer the shining city it once was. Religious freedom activist Bob Fu said,
“The crackdown is so severe in some areas of Hong Kong that freedom of speech and freedom of association is actually worse than in mainland China. There is arbitrary detention, massive surveillance and a huge crackdown of legally elected legislators. One church has had its bank account frozen, just for considering helping victims of political persecution. What is happening in Hong Kong sends a chilling message all over the world. The world should take note: there is no rule of law anymore, no independence, no freedom of the press, no freedom of association, no freedom of speech anymore in Hong Kong. These are all gone.”
Americans should be cognizant of what has happened in Hong Kong. Freedom under British rule allowed Hong Kong to grow into an economic powerhouse and the envy of the world. In just a few short years, China has turned Hong Kong into a place where hundreds of thousands want to leave so they can escape persecution.
The same could just as quickly happen in the United States or anywhere else if authoritarian-inclined leaders are granted unchecked power to silence opposition and exercise increasing control over individual liberties.