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Exodus fears can be eased by retaining confidence of public

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 2/7/2020 SCMP Editorial
a person holding a flag: About 30 members of Pro-Government group with National flag celebrating of the new National Law outside the Tamar Site. Photo: Felix Wong © SCMP About 30 members of Pro-Government group with National flag celebrating of the new National Law outside the Tamar Site. Photo: Felix Wong

With the ink barely dry on the new national security law, Britain has reaffirmed its promise of a welcome mat for nearly 3 million Hong Kong people with British National (Overseas) status, including about 350,000 who already have BN(O) passports, which opens the path to citizenship. It is not the only prospect of a haven if they do not want to live under the new law. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison says his country is "prepared to provide support" in a "very concerning situation". Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party has eyed the city's financial professionals in discussions about how to realise the dream of becoming a global financial hub. American politicians have flagged a bipartisan move to offer refuge.

It sounds like the world is Hong Kong's oyster. Indeed, its people are free to leave if they want. But before taking the leap they need to reflect on their anxieties about Hong Kong's future and weigh the downsides of starting a new life elsewhere. Common examples are higher taxes and limited or delayed access to social welfare, including health care. Jobs may not be easily come by. They might have to be fully self-funding for years. Britain may feel morally obliged to open its doors, but the ultimate goal of citizenship does not come easily. In a fast changing world shaped by US-China tension, social unrest and a pandemic there are many uncertainties in the short term, let alone the medium haul. These realities can be expected to greatly reduce the number who might want to take up the opportunity to enter Britain for five years, and apply for citizenship after a further year.

Nonetheless, the Hong Kong government and Beijing have to realise that they have unleashed a headhunt for the city's best talents. It is therefore in the interests of both to make every effort to ensure local people are confident and comfortable in the future with judicious application of the new law. After all, many are not eager to leave. And even though the city is not as important as it once was to China's development, it still has a significant role.

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Beijing may have addressed its concerns over national security by plugging loopholes with this new law. But it is seen by many to include draconian measures. The next step is to ensure that Hong Kong's stability and vibrancy is not collateral damage. Only by retaining the confidence of the people can the government and Beijing be sure of heading off an exodus that will jeopardise the resilience and flair for adaptation that has made the city what it is today. Apart from condemning the interference of foreign countries, the local and central governments need to consider the concerns of Hong Kong people. That way, they are more likely to feel welcome and want to stay rather than consider offers to leave.

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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

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