BEIJING (AFP) – China said Friday it would no longer recognize a British overseas passport as a valid travel document or identity card, amid a bitter dispute with London over a plan to give millions of Hong Kong residents a potential path to residency and citizenship.
Friday’s announcement by US State Department Spokesperson Zhao Legian sparked uncertainty about the plan just hours after the UK announced that it would begin receiving applications for BNO visas from late Sunday.
Under the plan, up to 5.4 million Hong Kong residents could be eligible to live and work in the UK for five years and then apply for citizenship. Demand rose after Beijing imposed a comprehensive national security law on the former British colony last year after months of pro-democracy protests.
“The British side’s attempt to convert a large number of Hong Kong residents into second-class British citizens has completely changed the nature of the understanding of the two original sides of the BNO,” Zhao told reporters in a daily briefing.
“This move is a serious violation of China’s sovereignty, and flagrantly interferes in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs, and seriously violates international law and basic standards of international relations,” he said. China will no longer recognize the so-called BNO passport as a travel document and an identity document as of 31 January and reserves the right to take further action. ”
Many Hong Kong residents hold multiple passports and it is not clear whether the Chinese government can do anything to prevent people from entering the UK through the BNO visa system. As an added protection for privacy, the mobile application allows applicants to download their basic information without having to go to the UK visa office.
The BNO passport was originally a disappointment to Hong Kong residents when it was first introduced prior to the handover of Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997. At that time, the passport was granted the right to visit for a period of six months without the right to work or acquire a full citizen. Applicants must be born prior to the transfer date.
However, pressure to expand such concessions increased as China acted increasingly harshly on civil and political life in Hong Kong in what critics say is inconsistent with China’s commitment to give the city a separate lifestyle after 50 years of handover. China first declared in 1984 the Sino-British declaration that the transportation arrangements were invalid despite recognition by the United Nations, then imposed a national security law on the territory after the city’s legislature was unable to implement it on its own.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement, “I am extremely proud that we have introduced this new pathway for BNOs in Hong Kong to live, work and establish their homes in our country.”
“In doing so, we have honored our deep history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong, and we have favored freedom and independence – values dear to both the UK and Hong Kong.”