China said Friday it will not recognize the British National Overseas passport for Hong Kong residents after Jan. 31, as Britain is planning to admit millions of people from its former colony to take residency and eventually British citizenship.
Foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters “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 the BNO.”
Zhao said that such 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.”
The move came in response to a promise made by the British government to offer refuge for Hong Kong residents following Beijing’s crackdown on dissent.
“I am immensely proud that we have brought in this new route for Hong Kong BNOs to live, work and make their home in our country,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement.
“In doing so we have honored our profound ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong, and we have stood up for freedom and autonomy” values that Britain and Hong Kong hold dear, the statement said.
According to the plan, 5.4 million Hong Kong residents would be eligible to live and work in Britain for five years and then apply for citizenship.
When the BNO passport was first issued prior to Hong Kong’s transfer to Chinese rule in 1997, it offered Hong Kongers born before the handover only the right to visit Britain for six months, but not to work there or become British citizens.