• By The Financial District


China said Thursday it will consider not recognizing Hong Kong residents' British National (Overseas) passports as valid travel documents, calling Britain's visa offer to millions of Hong Kong people a violation of international law.

China was threatening a countermeasure after Britain revealed Wednesday details of a visa program for an estimated 2.9 million Hong Kong people who hold or are eligible for BNO passports, and their dependent children, to live in the country and apply for citizenship, according to Kyodo News.

Britain's measure itself was in response to China's recent imposition of a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong, which has sparked concerns about an erosion of human rights and freedoms in the former British colony.

At a press conference in Beijing on Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin accused Britain of breaking promises over its visa offer, adding the country also violated international laws and the principles of international relations over the passport issue.

"Since Britain broke its promises first, China will consider not recognizing the British Nationals (Overseas) passports as valid travel documents, and we reserve the right to take further necessary measures," Wang said.

Under Britain's visa program, effective from January 2021, Hong Kong people who hold or are eligible to have the passports will be able to stay in the country for a total of five years to work or study but without access to welfare services.

Afterward, they can apply to stay in Britain for another year and apply for citizenship.

The passports have been issued to those who were born in Hong Kong before its return to Chinese rule in 1997.

"The United Kingdom has explicitly pledged that BNO passport holders who are Chinese citizens residing in Hong Kong shall not have the right of abode in the U.K.," a spokesperson at the Chinese Embassy in London said in a statement earlier Thursday.