Kin Cheung / AP
Kin Cheung / AP
Two days before the UK is due to begin accepting applications from Hong Kong residents for visas offering a path to residence and citizenship in the UK for holders of British National Overseas (BNO) citizenship, China announced it would no longer recognize the BNO passport.
Britain created the path to citizenship for one an estimated 5.2 million Hong Kongers last year after China introduced a national security law against the former British colony, criticized as a violation of civil rights.
But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said in an information meeting on Friday that China will no longer recognize BNO passports for travel or identification.
“The British party’s attempt to turn a large number of Hong Kong people into second – class British citizens has completely changed the nature of the two sides’ initial understanding of the BNO,” Zhao said, the Associated Press from Beijing reported.
“This step seriously violates China’s sovereignty, grossly disrupts Hong Kong’s affairs and China’s internal affairs and seriously violates international law and the fundamental norms of international relations,” he said.
Zhao said China will end its recognition of BNO passports on January 31, when the British consulate in Hong Kong is scheduled to start accepting BNO visa applications under the new immigration law. From 23 February to ensure greater integrity, Residents of Hong Kong will be able to apply for visas via a mobile app so that they do not have to visit the consulate.
BNO citizenship was created as part of 1997 surrender of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty. It allowed only six months’ visit to the UK without the right to work. About 350,000 Hong Kongers had BNO passports before Britain offered the new path to citizenship. But figures from the British government show that applications for BNO passports have increased since protests against democracy in 2019.
It is unclear what impact China’s decision will have on Hong Kong residents who want to leave. The British Foreign Office says that a BNO passport is not required to obtain a BNO visa as long as applicants can prove that they are entitled to other documents. Hong Kong Special Administrative Region passports are accepted, as are passports from other nations.
It is also not clear how many Hong Kongers will choose to immigrate to the UK. Of the millions eligible, the British government estimates that between 258,000 and 322,400 GNI citizens will come over five years.
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson issued a defiant response to the Chinese announcement.
“I am extremely proud that we have taken this new path for Hong Kong BN (O) to live, work and create their home in our country,” Johnson said in a statement.
“By doing this, we have honored our deep history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong, and we have stood up for freedom and autonomy – values that both Britain and Hong Kong hold dear.”
Britain has claimed that China’s introduction of a national security law in Hong Kong violates the surrender agreement between the two nations where China has pledged not to intervene in the former colony’s affairs for 50 years.
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