China has said that it will no longer recognise the British National (Overseas) passport as a valid travel document as Boris Johnson announced that millions of eligible Hongkongers could apply for the right to live and work in the UK from Sunday.
The prime minister hailed the launch of the new visa scheme, introduced last July in response to a draconian national security law imposed by Beijing on the former British colony, saying that he was “immensely proud that we have brought in this new route for Hong Kong BNOs to live, work and make their home in our country”.
“In doing so we have honoured our profound ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong, and we have stood up for freedom and autonomy — values both the UK and Hong Kong hold dear,” he added.
In response, the Chinese foreign ministry announced that it would no longer recognise the BNO passport as a valid document for either travel or for identification. It added that it reserved the right to take further actions.
“The UK side blatantly disregards the fact that Hong Kong has been returned to China for 24 years but broken its promise,” Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the foreign ministry, said. “The UK side attempts to turn a large number of Hong Kong people into second-class British citizens, which has completely altered the nature of BNO as understood jointly by China and Britain.
“The now so-called BNO by the UK is no longer the old BNO. The move has severely infringed upon the Chinese sovereignty and rudely interfered with Hong Kong affairs and China’s domestic matters.”
The Chinese embassy in the UK also issued a statement that “expressed its grave concern and strong opposition” and vowed to respond with counter-measures.
“If the UK side, in total disregard of the strong opposition and repeated representations of the Chinese side, opened route for BNO passport holders to right of abode and citizenship in the UK, it would be going against its own promises seriously, interfering in China’s internal affairs, and violating international law and the basic norms governing international relations,” the embassy said in a statement, urging the UK government to “immediately correct its mistakes”.
The UK government argues that the security law has breached the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, which promised to give more rights and freedoms to the Hong Kong people and allow the territory to maintain a high degree of autonomy.
“We have been clear we won’t look the other way when it comes to Hong Kong. We will live up to our historic responsibility to its people,” Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, said.
In Hong Kong an estimated 2.9 million people are eligible for the BNO status. Those born before July 1, 1997, when the territory was returned to the Chinese rule, are eligible for the status.
The new visa programme will also benefit a further 2.3 million people who are eligible dependents. They can apply for UK citizenship after living there for five years. Hong Kong has a population of 7.5 million.
Last month Hongkongers in Britain, an advocacy group, said that the UK could expect an influx of immigrants from Hong Kong when the new visa programme begins, after a survey it conducted showed strong interest among Hong Kong people to take advantage of the new visa rule.
Of the 315 respondents to the survey, 93 per cent said that they intended to apply for the BNO visa and nearly half said that they planned to apply as soon as the new visa programme started. The report said that 96 per cent of the respondents considered Hong Kong no longer a safe and free home after the national security law took effect on June 30.
The UK government said about 7,000 BNO status holders and their dependants have been granted six months’ Leave Outside the Rules (LOTR) at the border from July 15 to January 13.
From January 31 eligible Hongkongers can apply for the new visa by submitting their fingerprints in person at an office in North Point. Starting February 23, BNO status holders and their eligible family members can apply on an app if they have a biometric passport.