Canada has drawn up plans to evacuate hundreds of thousands of its citizens from Hong Kong if necessary, but officials have cautioned they can do little for pro-democracy advocates seeking refuge from the Chinese authorities.
Canadian Consul General in Hong Kong and Macau Jeff Nankivell told a parliamentary committee the government had drafted plans to assist nearly 300,000 Canadians living in the territory if the security situation deteriorated.
“We do have detailed plans in place, and we have resources available and identified to cover a range of situations up to, and including, a situation where the urgent departure of a large number of Canadians would be necessary,” Nankivell said. “The likelihood of that kind of extreme scenario appears right now to be low, but it’s our job to plan for the most extreme situations.”
The potential need for evacuation plans was underlined by China’s decision in the summer to enact a controversial National Security Law for the territory.
The legislation, which critics say has criminalized activism and dissent in Hong Kong, has stifled the pro-democracy movement, and had a chilling effect on media, education and politics.
Nankivell’s testimony is likely to further escalate tensions between China and Canada.
After Ottawa expressed its support for pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong, Chinese Ambassador to Canada Cong Peiwu (叢培武) said that any “interference in China’s domestic affairs” could potentially jeopardize the “ the good health and safety” of Canadian citizens living in in the territory, as well as companies.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau quickly condemned the ambassador’s remarks and accused Beijing of “coercive diplomacy.”
Canada has plans for a large-scale evacuation, but Nankivell said that his staff would be unable to help asylum seekers looking for protection at the consulate.
“The global policy of Canada, similar to most other countries, is that our diplomatic missions, including consulates, do not accept applications of asylum at our offices from people who are in their own territory,” he said, adding that nobody had yet tried to claim asylum.
In contrast to the Canadian evacuation plans, the UK has said that it would extend immigration rights to Hong Kong residents who hold a British National Overseas (BNO) passport.
There are about 300,000 BNO passport holders — those who were born before the 1997 handover of the territory — but as many as 3 million people could qualify.
China has criticized the plan.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has told the UK to “immediately correct its mistakes” and rescind the offer.
The new visas would permit five-year entry, as opposed to six months, and applications open on Jan. 31.
The UK has not yet said what measures are in place to aid its 30,000 citizens living in Hong Kong.
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