China has said it will not recognise the British National Overseas (BNO) passport as a valid document for Hong Kong residents from Sunday, after the UK said it would allow it to be used as a route to British citizenship.
The announcement from Beijing is the latest in a series of moves – including a strict new national security law passed in June last year – to exercise tighter control over the former British colony, which was returned to China in 1997 on a promise that its autonomy would be maintained.
The British government had responded to the crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement by offering up to 3 million holders of BNO passports a new path to full UK citizenship, within six years, if they leave the city to settle in Britain.
Britain said on Friday that it expected around 300,000 Hong Kongers to take up the offer, and that the changes would be in place from Sunday. But China has pushed back against the plan.
China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian on Friday said that his country will “no longer recognise the so-called BNO passport as a travel document and proof of identity starting from 31 January, and reserves the right to take further measures.”
“The British side’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’ original understanding of BNO. This move seriously infringes on China’s sovereignty, grossly interferes in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs, and seriously violates international law and the basic norms of international relations,” Mr Zhao told reporters.
It remains uncertain how China’s announcement will affect Britain’s offer, but it is likely to make it harder for BNO passport-holding Hong Kongers to fly to the UK in the first place. The UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, has previously said there is little Britain can do if China decides to prevent citizens from travelling.
Britain and China have repeatedly clashed over the issue of Hong Kong, with the UK questioning whether Beijing is in breach of its international obligations under the 1997 handover treaty. When asked about the UK citizenship rule changes on Thursday, Mr Zhao said that China “has repeatedly stated its position on this issue”.
“The British side, in breach of its promise, has chosen to obstinately and repeatedly hype up the BNO passport issue to interfere in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs. This will only end up hurting its own interests.”
Mr Zhao said he “would like to reiterate our confidence in the promising future of Hong Kong”.
“No forces under whatever circumstances can erode the determination of the Chinese government and the Chinese people to uphold national sovereignty and security, safeguard Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability, and oppose external intervention,” he said.
Additional reporting by agencies
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