BNO passport Photo: Asia Times

The Chinese government is considering not recognizing British National (Overseas) passports as legitimate travel documents in retaliation against the British government for offering Hong Kong people a way to gain UK citizenship.

The UK government had broken its promise and repeatedly raised the BNO issue to interfere in the internal affairs of Hong Kong and China, Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Friday.

“We urge the British government to immediately correct its mistake and put an end to its political manipulation,” Zhao said. “Otherwise they will surely shoot themselves in the foot.”

Zhao said Beijing would reserve its right to take further actions and retaliate against the UK move.

The comments came after the UK government Thursday gave more details about the visa scheme, which will let BNO passport holders and their dependents study and work in the UK for five years and gain citizenship in the sixth year.

The UK government said it was changing the entitlements attached to BNO status in response to the breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration by the Chinese government in restricting the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong people and eroding the high degree of autonomy of the special administrative region.

“The imposition of the national security law on Hong Kong marked a clear erosion of the rights and freedoms for the people of this city,” Andrew Heyn, the British Consul-General to Hong Kong, said in a press release. “This new route to the UK is part of our commitment to the people of Hong Kong. The UK is ready to welcome BNO citizens and their dependents to the UK.”

The BNO visa will be open for applications from January 31, 2021. BNO citizens will have the right to work in almost any role, consistent with UK employment laws and subject to having appropriate skills and qualifications. All those with BNO status are eligible, as are their family dependents, provided they are usually resident in Hong Kong. There will be no quota on numbers. 

The cost of a five-year BNO visa will be £250 (US$326.7) per person, lower than many other visas routes to the UK. A 30-month visa will cost £180 per person. Applicants will have to show that they have enough money to support themselves and their families for six months. They will also have to pay a supplement for health services, currently set at £2,000 for five years.

Grounds for refusal of an application include serious criminal convictions, though the British consulate said it would not reject applicants who had been convicted over activities such as non-violent protest or exercising freedom of speech.

Office of the Commissioner of China’s Foreign Ministry in Hong Kong said in a statement on Friday that before the handover, Britain had explicitly promised not to grant BNO passport holders the right of abode and its move to offer holders a route to citizenship was a blatant breach of its commitments.

It said the British government had to put an end to its “hypocritical performances and political manipulation” as Hong Kong people did not enjoy any human rights or democracy during the 150 years when the territory was administered by the British colonial government.

Beijing accused the UK government of having loosened the Public Order Ordinance and the Societies Ordinance shortly before the 1997 handover and refused to admit the “dark history” related to its suppression of Hong Kong people’s human rights and freedoms.

The statement said the UK government had exposed its wicked intention to bring chaos to Hong Kong and China by smearing the national security law and ignoring the fact that the law had successfully put an end to chaos in the territory.

“The Sino-British Joint Declaration was related to the arrangements during the handover of Hong Kong from the Britain to China,” according to the statement.

“There was not a single word or clause that granted Britain a right to take any role in Hong Kong after the handover,. The British so-called ‘promise to the people of Hong Kong’ is completely wishful thinking and nonsense.”

About a fifth of Hong Kong people would move to other countries, according to a survey by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute and commissioned by the Starpro Immigration Consultancy. In the survey, 650 adults were interviewed last month.

Of those who wanted to emigrate, 45% would take action within two years while 33% would do it two years later. The remaining 23% did not have a timetable.

About 29% of those planning to move would choose the UK while 44% would choose other countries. The remaining 27% had not yet decided.

Edmund Chong, managing director of Starpro Immigration Consultancy, said those who wanted to emigrate were hesitating due to the pandemic in the western countries. Chong said some others were worried about the job opportunities and their children’s education. He said more people would make up their minds after the BNO visa scheme kicked off.

Read: China forces British passport holders to take sides

Read: HK’s BNO passport holders face difficult decision