US and UK Public Opinion Aligned in Support of Hong Kong

June 12, 2020
China | Immigration | Relations with China | USA Elections

A poll conducted earlier this week by Redfield & Wilton Strategies found that the American public supports welcoming Hong Kong residents to the US at similarly high rates as the British public supports granting residence rights to Hong Kong BNOs. Respondents in the US were told about the UK Government’s recent decision to extend residency rights to British National Overseas (BNO) passport-holders from Hong Kong, and were then asked whether they would support the United States also offering asylum or similar protected status to residents of Hong Kong who fear repression from China. The majority of US respondents said they would support offering asylum or similar protected status to Hong Kong residents (51%), with only 22% saying they would not support such a measure.

Support for welcoming Hong Kong residents to the US was evident across the political spectrum, with 51% of likely Trump voters and 57% of likely Biden voters supporting the policy. 

The rate at which US respondents support welcoming Hong Kong residents to the US is nearly identical as the rate at which UK respondents support welcoming them to the UK. In a poll conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies last week, 56% of respondents approved of the UK Government’s decision to extend UK residence rights to Hong Kong residents, just five percentage points higher than the US support rate for a similar measure (51%). Similar to the US, support for welcoming BNOs to the UK was a cross-party issue, with the majority of 2019 Conservative, Labour, and Liberal Democrat voters supporting the UK Government’s decision.

Likewise, US and UK respondents were almost as likely to support a multilateral intervention to protect the people of Hong Kong in the event the Chinese Government sent its military into the territory. Such multilateral action had 39% support among the US public and 37% support among the UK public. Conversely, 20% of the US public and 24% of the UK public indicated they would oppose multilateral action to protect the people of Hong Kong in the event the Chinese Government sent its army into the territory.

If the Chinese Government was to send its army into Hong Kong, likely Trump voters would support a multilateral intervention to protect the people of Hong Kong at a higher rate (46%) than likely Biden voters (36%) in the US. On the other hand, the political gap is somewhat narrower in the UK, with 40% of 2019 Conservative voters saying they would support a multilateral intervention alongside 36% of 2019 Labour voters.

Among those members of the US public who would support intervening to protect the people of Hong Kong, economic intervention (ie sanctions) was the preferred form of intervention for a plurality (42%), with only 29% of pro-intervention respondents saying they would support a military intervention. Likely Trump voters were ten percent more likely to support a military intervention than likely Biden voters, whereas likely Biden voters were nine percent more likely to support a diplomatic intervention than likely Trump voters. Both were roughly as likely to support an economic intervention.

We at Redfield & Wilton Strategies also asked respondents in Hong Kong whether they would think economic sanctions against China by governments around the world (including the US, UK, Japan, South Korea, and others) would help the situation in Hong Kong. A plurality of Hong Kong respondents think economic sanctions against China by Western countries would help the situation in Hong Kong (43%), however nearly the same proportion said they do not think the sanctions would help (39%).

Likewise, Hong Kong respondents were very divided about whether words of support for the protesters in Hong Kong from world leaders such as the US President or the UK Prime Minister would help the situation in Hong Kong. 41% agreed and 42% disagreed that such words of support for the protesters would be helpful. Overall, Hong Kong respondents seem wary of an escalation of rhetoric between China and the Western countries which could lead to China intensifying its repression in Hong Kong in order to assert its control over the territory. Therefore, a sizeable proportion of Hong Kong respondents think that open Western interference would work against the best interests of Hong Kong.

Despite their reluctance to have Western leaders (including the US President) offer words of support or impose economic sanctions on China, a plurality of respondents in Hong Kong consider that Donald Trump winning re-election in November would be better for Hong Kong and its interests than Joe Biden winning the election (38% and 32% would prefer for Trump and Biden to win, respectively). The greater support for Trump is not necessarily reflective of the politics of Hong Kong respondents, but rather of a more realpolitik approach to Hong Kong’s situation in relation to Beijing, where President Trump’s perceived toughness on China might be welcome.

Overall, there is clear alignment between respondents in the US and UK public on the question of how to support Hong Kong and its residents. However, in Hong Kong, the public is very divided over whether interventions by the US and UK (whether economic or diplomatic) would in fact help improve the situation in Hong Kong in relation to Beijing’s increasing desire to directly control the territory. However, the “special relationship” between the US and UK is clearly alive and well on the question of Hong Kong, but it remains to be seen whether the alignment in public opinion across the two countries will translate to policy coordination between their governments—and whether they will listen to what the people of Hong Kong say would actually help them.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.