China said on Friday that it would not recognize the British National Overseas (BNO) passport as a valid travel document or proof of identity starting from Sunday, as the United Kingdom will make available a new visa for almost 3 million Hong Kong BNO status holders on that day.
China is indignant and opposes the UK move, and reserves the right to take further action, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a regular news briefing.
“The UK is trying to turn large amounts of Hong Kong residents into second-class citizens of the country and has already completely changed the nature of the BNO,” he said.
The UK disregards the fact that it has been nearly 24 years since Hong Kong’s return to the motherland, Zhao said.
He added that London broke its commitment and insisted on formulating and introducing the so-called bespoke policies for Hong Kong residents with BNO status to stay in the UK and obtain British citizenship, and extended the scope of application.
Today’s BNO is no longer what it used to be, he said.
The UK move infringed on China’s sovereignty, interfered in Hong Kong affairs as well as China’s internal affairs, and violated the international laws and basic rules governing international relations, Zhao said.
Also on Friday, a spokesman for the government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region said in a statement that Hong Kong residents who hold the BNO passport or status should clearly understand the political intentions of the British government.
The spokesman reiterated that apart from serving its political agenda, the UK’s move will also bring huge economic interests to the country. While the UK may be in dire need of talent and capital, it should not have made use of the BNO passport as a political weapon.
The central government’s adoption of the stance and policy in response to the UK’s breach of commitment is a matter of foreign affairs and squarely within its remit, the spokesman said, adding that the Hong Kong SAR government will fully follow up on the necessary measures for implementing the relevant policy.
BNO passport holders previously had only limited rights to visit the UK for up to six months, and no right to work or settle.
The new visa allows those with BNO status and their eligible family members to be able to go to the UK to live, study and work. As with other visas, after five years in the UK, they will be able to apply for settlement, followed by British citizenship after a further 12 months.
China’s nonrecognition of the UK passports obtained via the BNO visa means that these people holding UK passports in the future, many of whom have extensive connections in Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland, will have trouble visiting the mainland and dampened job prospects in Hong Kong, said Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies.
Stanley Ng Chau-pei, a Hong Kong deputy to the National People’s Congress, decried the British BNO scheme as “shameful” since it was introduced for political purposes.
Ng pointed out that it also comes with no promise to Hong Kong people. On one hand, it remains uncertain if all BNO visa applicants could successfully apply for citizenship in the UK after staying there for six years, while on the other hand other countries haven’t clarified their policies on BNO passports, which means it’s uncertain whether those BNO passport holders will be allowed to enter other countries, he added.