The United Kingdom has provided a path to citizenship for Hong Kongers who hold British National Overseas passports because they were subjects of the queen until 1997. The move applies to nearly three million Hong Kongers out of a population of nearly 8 million. Australia is also looking to become a haven for Hong Kongers, and many are pressuring President Trump to do the same.
I have very mixed feelings about this. Obviously, the United Kingdom had to do something to punish China for violating the terms of the 1997 Joint Declaration on Hong Kong. There is an important and thriving community of Hong Kongers in London already.
I want Hong Kongers to remain free. But, I worry that the effect is to make Beijing’s tyranny over Hong Kong more secure and doom its chances of independence, or any kind of recovery of Hong Kong’s unique political–historical identity. If millions do take the options to emigrate, the effect will be to open Hong Kong to much greater re-settlement from Beijing’s mainlander loyalists. It will maroon those left behind in a tyranny whose grip has become tighter.
It’s true that a successful diaspora can help their brothers and sisters back home. And they often do. But, it’s also true that, historically, great waves of emigration can weaken nascent independence movements, or weaken the unique cultural identity of a people around which they can build an effective political resistance.
There’s also something unseemly about the way in which some commentators are talking about Hong Kongers and emigration. I agree with many of them that Hong Kongers are some of the most remarkable people in the world. If Hong Kong were a free nation, I would feel especially blessed to live there and count Hong Kongers as my neighbors. But, it is crass to talk about the destruction of their home as a free economic opportunity for those that would welcome them.
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