China has withdrawn recognition of a UK colonial-era passport for Hong Kong in a growing dispute over a British plan to issue visas to millions of citizens.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on Friday that China will no longer recognise the British National (Overseas) Passport as a valid travel document or form of identification.
It came as Britain announced it would begin accepting applications from Sunday for a special UK visa for Hong Kong residents.
The UK government estimates an initial 300,000 people are expected to leave the territory for Britain under the scheme.
But many Hong Kongers carry multiple passports and up to 5.4 million people could eventually be eligible.
The British National (Overseas) passport was introduced ahead of Hong Kong’s handover to Chinese rule on 1 July 1997 and was open only to applicants born before that date.
New nationality applications are not accepted, but existing nationals can apply to bring members of their immediate family with them.
Pressure had increased on British authorities to expand the privileges after China increasingly cracked down on civil and political life in Hong Kong, most recently by imposing a national security law on the territory.
“I am immensely proud that we have brought in this new route for Hong Kong BNOs to live, work and make their home in our country,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement.
“In doing so we have honoured our profound ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong, and we have stood up for freedom and autonomy – values both the UK and Hong Kong hold dear.”
But China called it an attempt “to turn a large number of Hong Kong people into second-class British citizens.”
Spokesperson Zhao told reporters on Friday: “This move seriously infringes on China’s sovereignty, grossly interferes in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs, and seriously violates international law and the basic norms of international relations.
“China will no longer recognise the so-called BNO passport as a travel document and proof of identity starting from Jan 31st, and reserves the right to take further measures.”