China has announced that it will not recognise the British National Overseas passport as a valid travel document, fuelling a row with London over plans to grant UK citizenship to millions of Hong Kong residents.
The announcement by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian on Friday creates confusion around the plan, just hours after London said it would start taking applications for the so-called British National Overseas (BNO) visas on Sunday.
◾️ 🗓️On Sunday 31 Jan the BN(O) visa will open for applications on t.co/2NqOPcQeJC
— UK in Hong Kong 🇬🇧 (@UKinHongKong) January 29, 2021
The plan is to offer as many as 5.4 million Hong Kong citizens the possibility of obtaining UK residency and citizenship. Successful applicants will have to live and work in the UK for five years before they can apply for a full UK passport.
Demand for the scheme soared after Beijing introduced the contested “National Security Law” in Hong Kong on 1 July 2020, following months of pro-democracy protests.
Following the 1997 handover, pressure grew to expand the privileges, as China increasingly cracked down on civil and political life in Hong Kong. In their 1984 Joint Declaration, China and London agreed that Hong Kong would be able to maintain its own lifestyle for at least 50 years after the handover, or until 2047.