It is in Britain's interest to help 'Hongkongers' (The Telegraph, June 2020)
‘Enlightened self-interest’ is what you call it when a form of action is both ethically right and good for you at the same time. What could be easier than something that is both good for the conscience and good for the wallet?
The case now of the democracy activists in Hong Kong seems to me a very clear case in point. When Hong Kong was formally passed to the Chinese in 1997, ending over a century and a half of British colonial rule, an agreement was forged that the region’s autonomy and separate identity would be respected for at least fifty years, until 2047.
The trouble is that the word of the Chinese Government is far from trustworthy, as the events of the current pandemic have clearly shown. The National Security Law which it intends to impose on the city has caused significant alarm among pro-democracy activists.
The Beijing Government is cavalier and disregarding in its attitude to its previous commitments, made at the time of the 1997 handover. That treaty it dismissed as ‘a historical document’ which ‘no longer had any practical significance’. This is an attitude to legally-binding promises which should ring alarm bells throughout the international community.
As a member of this country’s Ugandan Asian community I cannot help but feel particularly alarmed by this, and particularly interested. So much about it reminds me of my own family’s experiences at the time when Idi Amin expelled them from the country of my birth almost half a century ago. Besides, as Pastor Martin Niemoller wrote at the time of the Holocaust, we should all feel implicated – should all stand up against injustice – whether or not it is personal for us. For if we don’t, when next time it is us, nobody else will be there to speak up in turn.
Back in 1972, at the time when Amin unleashed his murderous and psychotic campaign, the government of Edward Heath was – to give it its due – admirably firm about Britain’s duty to help. Many were opposed. Many counselled equivocation, or looked for remote islands where these unwanted, unfortunate homeless people might be dumped. Enoch Powell had recently made his infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. Feeling against immigration ran high. ‘This is our duty’, Heath said regardless, ‘There can be no equivocation.’
So much for the ‘enlightened’ part of it. What about the ‘self-interest’? Well, the Ugandan Asian community of which my family was a small part has proved an invaluable addition to British life: entrepreneurial, grateful, open-minded. They have been willing to learn English, to start businesses, to embrace British customs. Numerous examples can be found in public and commercial life, from our current Home Secretary Priti Patel downwards.
There is every reason to think that the ‘Hongkongers’ would prove the same. They too are often anglophone, anglophile and entrepreneurial – and now, in the wake of Covid-19, we have rarely been more in need of such attitudes. Those that don’t speak the language already would be keen to learn it. They believe in the value of independence and hard work. They would be anxious to fit in – just as my community was.
It might well be that other Commonwealth countries – like Canada, or Australia – would prove a preferable (and certainly much nearer) destination. We just don’t know how many might actually want to come all this way. But there is every reason to think that those who did would prove an immensely-valuable asset to our great country.
We should help them, and it is in our interest to do so. The Government is right. It is not a difficult decision.