TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — China has issued a series of threats to the United Kingdom over its plan to issue up to three million British National Overseas (BNO) passports to residents of Hong Kong.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s office in the territory has told the U.K. to “immediately correct its mistakes,” according to the BBC.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian (趙立堅) said on Friday (Oct. 23) that “China will consider not recognizing the BNO passport as a valid travel document and reserves the right to take further measures,” per the AP. The spokesperson was quoted in a follow-up statement Saturday as saying, “This will only end up harming its own interests,” referring to the U.K.
The BNO passports have become a diplomatic tool used by the U.K. to aid residents of Hong Kong, who have seen their freedoms drastically curtailed since the passage of Beijing’s national security law for the territory in June of this year. The law targets speech and assembly and criminalizes what it calls "collusion with foreign or external forces."
The heavy-handed blow to the formerly free region came after a year of pro-democracy protests, which were a reaction to the erosion of rights guaranteed by China during the U.K.’s handover of the territory in 1997.
Available to anyone born in Hong Kong before the handover, the BNO passports are currently held by around 300,000 people. Although the passports have until now only conferred the right of the holder and immediate family to live in the U.K. for up to six months, the British government has proposed that the right to work and study be added as well as visa extensions and even a path to citizenship.
While an estimated 2.9 million people in addition to those who already hold the passports are entitled to apply for these new privileges, many of the Hong Kong protesters, who tend to be of university age, will remain ineligible.
The expanded BNO program is set to commence in January of 2021.