China on Friday threatened to stop recognising the UK-issued passports for Hong Kong residents after the country reaffirmed its plan to offer a route to its citizenship to thousands of people living in the former British colony.
The British government announced in July that it will open a new special pathway to obtaining British citizenship for eligible Hong Kongers from January 2021 after China imposed a new, sweeping national security law on Hong Kong.
The British offer is not for all residents of Hong Kong, but only those holding a British National Overseas (BNO) passport.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a media briefing here that the Chinese government has repeatedly made clear its “strong stance on this issue, but the British side has insisted on interfering with Hong Kong affairs and China’s domestic issues.”
“As the British side broke its own promises, the Chinese government will consider not recognising the BNO passport as a valid travel document, and reserve the right to impose further measures,” he said.
The new “Hong Kong BN(O) Visa” will allow the holder to enter and remain in Britain for an initial period of 30 months, extendable by a further 30 months, or a single period of five years, according to information on the British government’s website.
“You’ll be able to work and study, but you won’t be able to access public funds such as social welfare benefits,” Hong Kong-based South China Morning quoted the statement as saying.
Holders can apply to settle in Britain once they have lived there for five years.
“After 12 months with this status, you can apply for British citizenship,” the statement said.
More than one million people from Hong Kong could move to Britain in the next five years under the new visa scheme, including 500,000 in the first-year, Hong Kong-based South China Morning.
Around 300,000 people currently hold a BNO passport, while an estimated 2.9 million people are eligible for it, according to the British Consulate General in Hong Kong.
Britain handed over Hong Kong, its former colony, to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997 under a “One Country, Two Systems” framework that was supposed to guarantee the city a high degree of autonomy and Western-style civil liberties not seen on mainland China.
China imposed the new national security law in Hong Kong after repeated protests there demanding more democracy and less Chinese influence.
The new law targets secession, subversion and terrorism with punishments of up to life in prison.