China said today it will “no longer recognise” British National Overseas (BNO) passports for Hong Kong citizens as the UK prepares to welcome those fleeing the National Security Law.
A foreign ministry spokesperson for the Chinese government said: “From January 31, China will no longer recognise the so-called BNO passport as a travel document and ID document and reserves the right to take further actions.”
The news follows a British government statement released in the early hours of this morning which stated that those with BNO passports can live, study and work in the UK.
The statement said that the visa reflects the UK’s moral commitment to Hong Kong people who have had “their rights and freedoms restricted”.
Prime minister Boris Johnson said: “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.”
Those without BNO passports can apply for other visas and can apply for settlement after five years and British citizenship after an additional year.
The UK committed to the visa scheme, which begins on Sunday, following the controversial National Security Law which was imposed by the Chinese government in June last year.
Many prominent activists and politicians have already fled Beijing’s authoritarian ruling over the former British colony.
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab said: “We have been clear we won’t look the other way when it comes to Hong Kong. We will live up to our historic responsibility to its people.
“China’s imposition of the National Security Law in Hong Kong constitutes a clear and serious breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration contrary to international law.”
Details of the law’s 66 articles were kept secret until it was passed, and criminalises any act of secession, subversion and collusion with foreign forces.
Arrests can be dubious, with critics arguing that Beijing use the law to stifle political adversaries. The law also carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
This evening the UK Government said it was disappointed but not surprised that China would no longer recognise the BNO passports.
“We are disappointed but not surprised by the Chinese decision not to recognize British National (Overseas) passports,” the British Foreign Office said in a statement.
“People with BN(O) status now have a choice to come and live, work and study in the UK. We look forward to welcoming those who wish to settle here.”