HONG KONG — Britain has granted Hong Kong democracy activist Nathan Law political asylum after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on his home city that has been heavily criticized by the West.
The move is certain to ratchet up tensions between London and Beijing as Britain opens its doors to residents of its former colony in the wake of the security legislation and crackdown on dissent.
“After several interviews in four months, the Home Office has informed me that my asylum application is approved,” Law, who arrived in Britain last July, said on Twitter late on Wednesday.
“The fact that I am wanted under the national security law shows that I am exposed to severe political persecution and am unlikely to return to Hong Kong without risk.”
British foreign minister Dominic Raab confirmed the news on Twitter, adding: “The UK has a proud history of providing protection to those who need it.”
Ramping up sweeteners to lure Hong Kong residents, Britain on Thursday pledged 43 million pounds ($59 million) to help them find jobs, houses and schools under the initiative allowing millions to resettle.
Britain has accused China of multiple breaches of an agreement under which it handed the city back to China in 1997. It says China’s security law and moves to disqualify pro-democracy legislators have undermined the semi-autonomous city’s high degree of autonomy.
Hong Kong and Beijing officials have said the law is vital to plug holes in national security defenses exposed by months of often violent pro-democracy and anti-China protests in 2019. China has repeatedly told Western powers to stop meddling in Hong Kong’s affairs.
China’s foreign ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, speaking in response to a question on the granting of asylum, said Britain had violated international law and interfered in Hong Kong’s judicial system.
“The UK side should immediately correct its mistake and stop interfering in Hong Kong matters and China’s internal affairs,” he said at a daily briefing in Beijing on Thursday.
Hong Kong residents became the fifth-largest foreign investors in central London as of last August and have been driving up prices in some popular districts outside the British capital.
London estimates that more than 300,000 Hong Kong residents could emigrate over the next five years, and Bank of America expects Hong Kong residents moving to Britain could trigger capital outflows of $36 billion in 2021. —Reporting by Anne Marie Roantree; Additional reporting by Gabriel Crossley and William James in London; Editing by Stephen Coates, Kim Coghill and Nick Macfie