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3 June 2020

Where now for the UK and China?

By inviting citizens of Hong Kong to become citizens of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson has raised questions about the government's policies on China. 

By Stephen Bush

The United Kingdom will offer a path to citizenship to around 3 million Hong-kongers if China pushes ahead with its new national security law, Boris Johnson has said

The policy commands broad support, both from the UK’s political parties and from a majority of voters, though in practice it’s unclear how many people will take up the offer, or, as the Home Office has been wont to do under successive administrations, whether the “path” to citizenship will come littered with unadvertised barriers. 

The government’s hope, of course, is that the big offer acts as a deterrent to the national security law – though that it is, in practice, unlikely. The big question is how much of a change in government policy towards China in general there is. What are the real-world implications of the government’s attempts to find ways to reduce its reliance on China? Does it mean a change of approach as far as Huawei and 5G are concerned? Greater defence cooperation with Taiwan? 

In practice, many of these decisions may be ones made for the government rather than by it. The Conservative Party’s China hawks feel validated by not only the Chinese state’s handling of coronavirus but by its recent moves to limit Hong Kong’s autonomy, and believe that their ranks – which almost inflicted the first government defeat of this parliament before the pandemic began – have been swelled, too. It’s this group that has the power to change the course of the British state as far as China is concerned. 

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