• Reading Level 5
Science | History | Citizenship

Britain opens its doors to 5m Hongkongers

Do Western democracies need a dose of Hong Kong’s energy? It is a city known for its unique and vibrant spirit. And today a new visa gives 70% of its citizens the right to live in the UK. When Simon Cheng was arrested at Hong Kong’s West Kowloon train station, he knew immediately he was in danger. For months Cheng, an officer at the UK consulate, had attended peaceful protests, marching alongside millions to preserve Hong Kong’s increasingly precarious democracy. In China’s eyes, it made him a target. For 15 days, Cheng says, he was tortured and beaten. The guards made him stand still for hours on end; if he began to fall asleep, they forced him to sing the Chinese national anthem. Upon his release in August 2019, Cheng fled to the UK. Now, it is on the streets of London, not Hong Kong, that he fights for his freedoms. Last year, he became the first British National (Overseas) passport holder to be granted asylum in the UK since Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997. Simon Cheng left his community, his job and his beloved city behind to start a new life in the UK. But he will not be alone for long. Today, the British government introduced a new visa giving 5.4 million Hongkongers, an incredible 70% of the territory’s population, the right to live in the UK. Estimates vary as to how many will take up the offer. The December jailing of Agnes Chow may convince some to make the move. UK authorities expect that 300,000 people will arrive in the first five years, but others put the figure at up to a million. One thing is clear: for those who choose to make the journey, Hong Kong will be a hard place to say goodbye to. When Prince Charles gave a speech marking the end of 156 years of colonial rule in 1997, he made a stunning declaration: “Hong Kong has created one of the most successful societies on Earth.” In the years that followed, few would regard it as an exaggeration. Hong Kong is known worldwide for its energy and spirit. With more than 16,000 people squashed into every square mile, it is a city that is always on the go. It has the world’s tallest skyline and largest subway system. One of the four Asian Tiger economies, it even has the world’s highest average IQ. Every June, thousands squeeze onto the iconic double-decker trams, known to locals as “ding dings”, to attend the Dragon boat festival, where they gorge on festive rice dumplings and watch paddlers compete in three thrilling days of racing. Today, many Hongkongers say they have a “Lion Rock spirit”. The phrase, which refers to the city’s perseverance, has become a call to arms for young activists. Now, some are preparing to bring this “Lion Rock spirit” to the UK. P, a qualified engineer in his mid-20s, fled to Britain last June when a friend was suddenly arrested. He is optimistic: “Hong Kong is filled with youths who can contribute to society.” Many economists agree. One group of analysts estimates that Hongkongers could boost the UK economy by up to £40bn, equivalent to a full year of economic growth. It would be, they say, a “ray of sunshine” for the West. So, do Western democracies need a dose of Hong Kong’s energy? Mass exodus Yes, say some. The UK, US, Canada and Australia are all popular destinations for Hong Kong’s emigrants, and all benefit from their sense of spirit, optimism and entrepreneurialism. Hong Kong, a fusion of East and West, has a unique history and culture. Now, its young pro-democracy activists could bring the buzz of Hong Kong with them to the West. No, say others. Hongkongers are not unique. Youth, passion and entrepreneurial energy are common traits in almost all migrant groups, economic or otherwise. Many Western countries already have thriving, open and multicultural societies. A sudden rise in the number of migrants from Hong Kong in particular is unlikely to alter life in the UK significantly. KeywordsIQ - A means of measuring human intelligence. A person’s IQ is usually ascertained by making them sit a standardised test. Some have criticised these tests as a means of evaluating intelligence, claiming that they ignore much of what it means to be intelligent.

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