China will no longer recognise UK-issued passports for Hong Kong residents as a form of identification as a bitter feud between London and Beijing develops over the status of millions of citizens.
The decision means British National Overseas passports will no longer be a valid travel document. The news came two days before the UK begins taking long-term visa applications from residents of Hong Kong that could pave the way to British citizenship for up to 5.4 million people.
Interest in the BNO visas, which would allow successful applicants to live and work in the UK for five years, soared when China introduced new security laws after pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
Beijing said these security measures are needed to return stability and safety in the former British colony.
“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,” said Zhao Lijian, China’s foreign ministry spokesman.
“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.
“China will no longer recognise the so-called BNO passport as a travel document and proof of identity, starting from January 31, and reserves the right to take further measures.”
About 300,000 people are expected to leave Hong Kong for the UK through the new visa.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “immensely proud” to offer the new route for people from Hong Kong “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 said.
A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “We are disappointed but not surprised by the Chinese decision not to recognise British National (Overseas) passports.
“Despite China’s announcement, BN(O)s and their families will be able to use documentation other than BN(O) passports to take up this visa. People with BN(O) status now have a choice to come and live, work and study in the UK. We look forward to welcoming those who wish to settle here.”