China to invalidate British National Overseas passport

China said Friday it will no longer recognise the British National Overseas passport as a valid travel document or form of identification amid a bitter feud with London over a plan to allow millions of Hong Kong residents a route to residency and eventual citizenship.

"China will no longer recognize so-called BNO passports as valid travel documents and identity certificates, starting 31 January," China's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian told a news conference in Beijing.

The move comes after the UK announced to issue special BNO visas to Hong Kongers from Sunday, allowing them to live and work in the country and eventually apply for British nationality.

Under the plan, as many as 5.4 million Hong Kong residents could be eligible to live and work in the UK for five years then apply for citizenship. Demand soared after Beijing last year imposed a sweeping new national security law on the former British colony following months of pro-democracy protests.

“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,” Zhao told reporters. “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,” he said. "Despite the fact that it has been 24 years since Hong Kong returned to the motherland [China], the UK has blatantly broken its commitment by introducing the BNO policy, which attempts to turn a large number of Hong Kong people into 'second-class' British citizens," Zhao quoted by Chinese daily Global Times as saying.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement on Friday: “I am immensely proud that we have brought in this new route for Hong Kong BN(O)s to live, work and make their home in our country.”

Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997 and is now a semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

In response to China imposing national security law in the semi-autonomous region last July, UK had announced the new visa scheme and will come into effect this Sunday, making Hong Kongers eligible to get British citizenship.

“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,” said Johnson.

In 1987, the UK created BNO as a special status specifically for Hong Kong.

Following unrest and anti-government protests in 2019, China implemented a controversial new security law in July 2020, triggering international criticism.

The announcement by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian on Friday throws up new uncertainty around the plan just hours after the UK said it would begin taking applications for what are called BNO visas beginning late Sunday.

Many Hong Kongers carry multiple passports and it is unclear what if anything the Chinese government could do to prevent people entering the UK through the BNO visa plan. As a further protection of personal privacy, a cellphone app will allow applicants to download their biometric information without having to been seen visiting the British visa office.

The BNO passport was originally a disappointment for Hong Kongers when it was first offered ahead of Hong Kong’s handover to Chinese rule in 1997. At the time, it offered only the right to visit for six months with no right to work or become a full citizen. Applicants had to have been born before the handover date.

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