China to Cease Recognizing Particular U.Ok. Passports for Hong Kongers

HONG KONG – China announced on Friday that it would no longer recognize certain UK travel documents in retaliation for the UK’s decision last year to visa potentially millions of Hong Kong residents and eventually find their way to citizenship.

The announcement, which came hours after the UK announced the official launch date for the new visa program, was the latest escalation in tensions between the two countries over the fate of Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned under Chinese control in 1997.

After Beijing decided last summer to impose a national security law on Hong Kong that gave the authorities full powers to contain disagreements, Britain accused China of violating its promise to grant Hong Kong 50 years of semi-autonomy. The UK government announced in June that it would create a special visa route for British National (Overseas) passport holders, a unique category created for Hong Kong residents prior to the 1997 transfer of power.

Under the new rules, Hong Kong residents who applied for BN (O) status prior to surrender would be entitled to a special visa that would allow them to live, work or study in the UK for up to five years. After another year, they could then apply for citizenship.

The UK government estimated that there were 2.9 million BN (O) citizens and 2.3 million dependents in Hong Kong who would be eligible to move with them, although it was unclear how many residents would actually emigrate. The government forecast that between 123,000 and 153,700 people would use the new trail in the first year. Not all BN (O) citizens have BN (O) passports, but can apply for them.

“We have recognized our deep connection between history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong and stood up for freedom and autonomy,” said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a statement on Friday along with the announcement that applications for the The New Way would be on Opened January 31st.

The British plan had outraged Beijing, which was quick to warn of possible retaliatory measures. On Friday, Chinese government officials made it clear that they viewed the new visa requirements as a direct challenge to their sovereignty.

Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, said at a press conference the plan was an attempt to turn Hong Kong residents into second-class British citizens, according to a statement from CCTV, China’s state broadcaster.

China will stop recognizing BN (O) passports as valid travel or identification documents on Jan. 31, Zhao said, adding that China has “reserved the right to take further action.”

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the announcement was more symbolic or more substantive. BN (O) passport holders can also hold Hong Kong passports or other foreign passports that are not affected by the measure.

Some pro-Beijing officials have tried to fill such perceived loopholes. Regina Ip, a Hong Kong lawmaker, suggested earlier this month that the territory deny residency rights to residents with dual citizenship. Hong Kong executive director Carrie Lam said there are no such plans in the pipeline.

Claire Fu contributed from Beijing. Elian Peltier contributed to the coverage from London.

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