On 1st July 1997 the people of Hong went from being the disenfranchised residents of a British colony to being the disenfranchised residents of a Chinese one. They had few if any governance rights before 1997 and few if any since. The “Joint Declaration” was a sell-out – a human rights abuse by an uncaring decolonising Britain.
A territory without self-governance can still have Passport rights for its residents – but Hong Kongers have never had this. Yes they had a nominally “British” passport with which they could travel – if countries chose to admit them. But this document did not give them British nationality nor, crucially, the right of residence in the U.K. As such it was largely worthless.
When I lived in the territory in the 1980s, after the Joint Declaration was signed, those among my Hong Konger friends who could afford to do so acquired foreign passports – particularly Australian and Canadian – as insurance against the sort of situation they now face. Cities like Melbourne and Vancouver have hugely benefited from this immigration. But many who got these passports stayed in Hong Kong knowing that if things got nasty then they could then leave. It’s surely only a matter of time before many of them choose to do so.
Britain abandoned the people of Hong Kong in the 1980s when Margaret Thatcher handed them over to a hostile foreign power without nationality or travel documents of any value. Nobody should misunderstand the legacy of anti-British feeling this act of negligence created. The mainly young people waving the Union Flag or the colonial HK flag are not being pro British. They are simply using these flags as provocative symbols of protest.
I very much doubt that many of the newly threatened people of the territory will be interested in the hugely belated and patronising “offer” now apparently to be made by Britain. Australia, Canada and New Zealand offer a more congenial welcome and these countries know what a valuable contribution Hong Kongers can make. Why would you want the vague prospect of passport of xenophobic, nationalist isolationist Little England when you can have one of a welcoming, open state where many of your friends, family and compatriots already live happily?