The federal government has made preparations to evacuate some 300,000 Canadian citizens out of Hong Kong should the situation deteriorate, even though the chances of it becoming necessary are currently very low, according to Ottawa’s top diplomat in Hong Kong.
The government, however, will be unable to help non-citizens seeking asylum, including relatives of Canadian citizens, Jeff Nankivell, Canada’s consul general in Hong Kong and Macau, told the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations in Ottawa this week.
“We 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,” said Nankivell, adding that the plans include bringing in additional resources should circumstances necessitate it.
“The likelihood of that kind of extreme scenario appears right now to be very, very low, but it‘s our job to plan for the most extreme situations and we do have detailed plans in place.”
But the consulate, like those of other countries, can not accept applications for asylum from non-citizens in their own territory, Nankivell explained, saying they would need to make a claim from a third country, something he admitted could be difficult due to the possibility authorities could prevent people from leaving.
No Canadians or others have approached the consulate to ask for protection or seek asylum yet, he said. The consulate has also not heard of any cases where residents in Hong Kong have been prevented from exiting the territory, he added, unless they were already under legal constraints, such as bail conditions and the 2,300 individuals arrested during protests who are now facing charges.
Concerns for Canadians in Hong Kong come as China continues to tighten its grip on the territory. Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong residents, possibly more, took to the streets last year in large-scale demonstrations that lasted months amid concerns that China was encroaching on the “one country, two systems” principle with an extradition bill that residents worried at the time could give the communist government undue influence over the region.
China and the U.K. had signed a joint declaration in 1984 that took effect in 1997 when Hong Kong was returned to China and included the Basic Law. The law ensured Hong Kong would retain many of its existing systems — economic, legal, legislative, human rights and freedoms — for 50 years.
Canada and China relations already reached their lowest point in years after Canada detained Meng Wanzhou on an extradition request from U.S., a top executive with Chinese telecom company Huawei. China arrested two Canadians, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, in what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has since described as coercive diplomacy.
Last month, tensions rose further after China’s ambassador to Canada, Cong Peiwu, said Canada would be interfering in China’s internal affairs if Ottawa granted asylum to pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.
“If the Canadian side really cares about the stability and the prosperity in Hong Kong, and really cares about the good health and safety of those 300,000 Canadian passport-holders in Hong Kong and the large number of Canadian companies operating in Hong Kong SAR, you should support those efforts to fight violent crimes,” Cong said in a video news conference.
When asked if his comments were a threat, Cong responded, “That is your interpretation.”
The consulate has seen some increases in visa and immigration inquiries since the law was enacted, but Nankivell said the numbers are not huge according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying
News source: CTV News