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Hong Kong, China: EU and other international responses triggered by the ‘national security law’

As a response to the draconian “national security law” imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing, which practically overrides Hong Kong’s mini constitution – the Basic Law, the US, Canada, Australia, the UK and New Zealand have suspended their respective extradition treaty with the Hong Kong on one hand, and offered “exit plans” for Hong Kong people on the other.

The EU’s High Representative Josep Borrell also announced on 13 July that the EU has also “assessed the implications of the national security law for Member States’ extradition agreement with Hong Kong and travel advice, and looked at possibilities to step-up scholarships for Hong Kong students." A coordinated response from the EU, including possibly “visa possibilities for Hongkongers that are a competence of the Member States” will follow. The EU Council Conclusions adopted on 28 July took a further step towards such a coordinated response although concrete measures are yet to be seen.

Apart from Taiwan which has set up the Taiwan-Hong Kong Office for Exchanges and Services on 1 July to assist Hong Kongers fleeing the city and Japan’s plan to attract financial professionals from Hong Kong, Australia weighed in with its special visa arrangements for Hong Kong on July 9 to attract Hong Kong talents and companies that are “looking to relocate to a democratic country”. Five-year visas plus a pathway to permanent residency will be offered to almost 10 000 existing temporary skilled, temporary graduate and student visa holders in Australia, as well as a further 2 500 outside Australia and 1 250 applications for such visas, according to the official media statement.

The UK announced on July 22 the details of a similar “bespoke” Hong Kong BN(O) visa arrangement at the risk of retaliation by China which claims that such a change of BN(O) status would be a violation of the Sino-British Joint Declaration that China itself declared a historical document earlier on. More “generous” than foreseen, the arrangement is not only applicable to British National (Overseas) passport holders, but also their non-BNO dependents, including children and high dependency parents. It also responded to the call for support to young protesters, who are born after 1997 and are not eligible for the BN(O) arrangement, with a path to the existing youth mobility scheme or via the UK’s new Points Based System. The offers are not unconditional, however. Despite the upgrading of BN(O) nationals to “BN(O) citizens” of the UK, it is not yet clear whether, for example, access to UK education system of such visa holders entails “home student” fees or foreign student fees. The cost of living and studying in the UK, plus the condition of “good conducts” without giving special consideration to politically motivated prosecutions, may potentially turn the UK scheme into an investment attraction scheme rather than a “life boat” for the thousands arrested or prosecuted in the pro-democracy protests last year.  

The US, Canada, New Zealand have not (yet) announced any special visa arrangements for Hong Kong students, although there are expectations for a new influx of migrants from Hong Kong due to traditional ties developed from earlier waves of emigration in 1980s and 1990s, before the handover of Hong Kong to China.

Concerning academic exchanges and cooperation, on July 14, the US announced the termination of the “Fulbright exchange program” in Hong Kong and the discontinuation of the cooperation between the U.S. Geological Survey of the Department of the Interior of the United States of America and Institute of Space and Earth Information Science of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Concerning Scientific and Technical Cooperation in Earth Sciences, among all the measures in The President’s Executive Order on Hong Kong Normalization. Also based in CUHK, the Hong Kong-America Center, which administered the Hong Kong Fulbright Program, is now closed. All these measures (mis)targeting CUHK, which was founded, by Chinese scholars who fled communist China, with the help of American support and has since maintained strong ties with American institutions, greatly disappointed internationalists and scholars working on Sino-American relations.

International academic cooperation with China, and now also Hong Kong institutions which are believed to have lost their autonomy as signified by the controversial firing of Benny Tai, will likely undergo increasing political scrutiny by both the Chinese (Hong Kong) and Western governments.

The German Parliament is reportedly scheduled to discuss the political influence of Confucius Institutes in German universities and German sinologists. However, since June this year, Confucius Institute itself is being rebranded and renamed as the Centre for Language Education and Cooperation and Chinese Plus (online). The cooperation model is also undergoing changes, and the headquarters of the Institutes (Hanban) had already changed its name to the Ministry of Education Centre for Language Education and Cooperation.