Posted on February 1, 2021

China to Stop Recognizing Special U.K. Passports for Hong Kongers as Britain Opens Door

Lily Kuo and Shibani Mahtani, Washington Post, January 29, 2021

China on Friday accused Britain of turning Hong Kong residents into “second-rate” citizens as the country prepares to welcome tens of thousands of people fleeing Beijing’s crackdown in the Asian financial center.

In a gesture set to inflame tensions between China and the United Kingdom, Beijing said that starting Sunday it would no longer recognize British National (Overseas), or BN(O) passports — a type of British nationality granted to residents of the former colony born before its 1997 handover to Chinese control.

Britain on Sunday begins accepting applications for a program that expands the rights of BN(O) holders, allowing them and their families to live and work in Britain and eventually seek citizenship. Some 5.4 million of Hong Kong’s 7.5 million people are eligible, raising the prospect of a mass exodus.

Britain moved to open its doors after China imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong, sharply curtailing political rights, which London said was a clear breach of the handover agreement. {snip}

On Friday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “immensely proud” of his country’s “commitment to the people of Hong Kong.”


Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian responded by saying China would no longer recognize the BN(O) as a travel document or proof of identification — a step it has been threatening for months. Criticizing Britain for “disregarding the fact that Hong Kong has been returned to China for 24 years,” Zhao said Beijing reserved the right to take further action.

“The U.K. is plotting to turn a large number of Hong Kong people into second-rate U.K. citizens,” he said, accusing Johnson’s government of “violently” interfering in China’s affairs.

In a statement following Zhao’s comments, the Hong Kong government said the BN(O) passports, as of Jan. 31, cannot be used for immigration clearance and will not be recognized as a valid document in the territory.

{snip} Residents can leave Hong Kong with a government-issued identity card or Hong Kong passport and later use the BN(O) document to enter the United Kingdom.


{snip} Since July 15 last year, some 7,000 Hong Kong people have resettled in the United Kingdom, which granted them special permission to stay even though the BN(O) program does not take effect until this weekend. Others have also arrived in Britain hoping to seek residency through asylum.

In October, the British government estimated that between 123,000 and 153,700 BN(O) passport holders and their dependents could arrive in the first year of the migration offer, and up to 320,000 over five years. Civil society groups say that estimate is conservative; they expect up to 600,000 Hong Kongers to relocate to Britain.