China says it will not recognise BNO passports that Hongkongers are using to move to UK

The UK says it has already taken in 7,000 Hongkongers ahead of the scheme's launch.

Kayla Wong | January 29, 2021, 06:52 PM

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Beijing has announced on Friday, Jan. 29, that it won't recognise British National (Overseas) (BNO) visas as travel nor identification documents, AFP reported.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters that from Jan. 31, China "will no longer recognise the so-called BNO passports as a travel document and ID document".

He added that China "reserves the right to take further actions".

UK opening path to citizenship to Hongkongers

The announcement was made shortly after Britain said its scheme to take in millions of Hong Kong residents will be starting from Sunday, Jan. 31.

Applications could be made online from 5pm onwards, the British Home Office said.

But ahead of the scheme's launch, the UK has already allowed 7,000 people from Hong Kong to settle in the country, Financial Times reported.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had hailed the scheme as having "honoured [their] profound ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong", and standing up for "freedom and autonomy -- values both the United Kingdom and Hong Kong hold dear".

London estimates that almost three million Hongkongers and their dependents will be eligible to move to the country under the scheme, which also provides for a path to full UK citizenship.

What is the BNO visa?

The BNO visa is a travel document issued to Hong Kong residents by the UK before Hong Kong was handed over to China in 1997.

It is a travel document that does not entitle the holder to citizenship rights, save for some consular assistance outside of Hong Kong and China, according to the BBC.

The UK's move to offer citizenship to three million Hongkongers came in the wake of the central government's decision to impose a national security law in Hong Kong in June last year.

Since then, Beijing has made mass arrests of pro-democracy activists and opposition figures.

The British government expressed its "deep regret" over Beijing's move to pass the law, and said it is "a clear breach" of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.

On the other hand, Zhao had slammed the move by the UK to offer Hongkongers residence statuses as an act that "violates international law and basic norms of international relations".

A day before the British Home Office made the announcement, Zhao had also accused the UK of "obstinately and repeatedly" hyping up the BNO issue "to interfere in Hong Kong affairs and China's internal affairs".

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Top image via China's Foreign Ministry & Getty Images