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China Says It Will Not Recognize British National Overseas Passport

A pro-democracy demonstrator holds British National Overseas (BNO) passports during a protest against new national security legislation in Hong Kong, China June 1, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
China Says It Will Not Recognize British National Overseas Passport
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China has said it will no longer recognize the British National Overseas, BNO, passport as a travel document or form of identification. The announcement comes as China and Britain argue over a plan to permit millions of Hong Kong citizens a path to British citizenship.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian made the announcement on Friday. It came just hours after Britain said it would begin accepting requests for BNO visas starting Sunday.

Under the British plan, as many as 5.4 million Hong Kong citizens could possibly live and work in Britain for five years. After that time, they could request British citizenship. Demand increased a lot after China imposed a new national security law for Hong Kong last year. The measures were in reaction to months of large protests supporting democracy in 2019 throughout the former British colony.

“The British side’s attempt to turn a large number of Hong Kong people into second-class British citizens has completely changed the nature of the two sides’ original understanding of BNO,” Zhao told reporters.

Saying the move is against the “norms of international relations,” Zhao said “China will no longer recognize the so-called BNO passport as a travel document and proof of identity starting from January 31st.”

He also said China may take “further measures.”

Many Hong Kong citizens carry several passports. There is also little the Chinese government can do to prevent people from entering Britain under the BNO visa plan. China’s decision not to recognize the travel document is seen as a statement of displeasure. A BNO passport holder in Hong Kong could still use their Hong Kong passport or identity document to enter China.

A cellphone app will permit people requesting a visa to include their biometric information without having to visit a British visa office.

The BNO passport was first offered before Britain handed Hong Kong over to mainland China in 1997. At the time, the document only offered the right to visit Britain for six months with no right to work or become a citizen. Only those born before the handover could request the visa.

However, the rights included with the visa increased as China put in place laws meant to control civil and political life in Hong Kong. Critics say the new laws break China’s promise to respect Hong Kong’s legal system and its separate way of life for 50 years following the handover.

First, China announced that agreements in the 1984 Sino-British Declaration would no longer be followed. Then, it passed a new national security law for the territory after the city’s legislature was unable to pass such measures on its own. Both moves created fear and anger among Hong Kong citizens because they appeared to threaten the territory’s democracy.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement that he was “proud” to bring holders of the new visa the right to “live, work and make their home in our country.”

He added that the new visa honors the “ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong.”

“We have stood up for freedom,” he said.

I’m Susan Shand.

The Associated Press and the Reuters News Agency reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.


Words in This Story

original –adj. existing first or at the beginning of something

norm – n. an excepted way of doing something

proof – n. evidence that shows that something is true

app – n. a computer program that carries out a special task

biometric - adj. related to measurement of the human body and its behavior to prove someone’s identity

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