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International relations

China warns it won't recognize Hong Kongers' British passports

Beijing retaliates after UK opens path to citizenship for BNO holders

A protester holds up a British passport during a demonstration outside the British consulate in Hong Kong last year.   © Reuters

BEIJING/LONDON -- China will consider no longer recognizing British passports issued to Hong Kong residents as valid documents for travel, Beijing said Thursday, in a move seen as retaliation for the U.K.'s decision to grant residential rights for the passport's holders.

The British government announced this month a new pathway to citizenship for the roughly 350,000 holders of a British National Overseas passport, along with 2.6 million others eligible, living in Hong Kong. On Wednesday, British officials released a statement saying the measures will go into effect in January.

Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, denounced the immigration policy Thursday, accusing the U.K. of "blatantly interfering in China's Hong Kong affairs."

Along with the nonrecognition of the BNO passport, China "reserves the right to take further measures," he said.

Wang did not elaborate on any specific steps China could take, but limits on travel to the U.K. by BNO holders is likely among the options.

The U.K. has responded by saying an official passport issued by the British government should be valid everywhere.

"They are legitimate international travel documents, and that's how you would expect them to be treated," said James Slack, spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Great Britain has expressed opposition to the Hong Kong national security law passed by Beijing at the end of June. British officials have said the legislation violates the "one country, two systems" framework of relative autonomy agreed to by the U.K. when it handed over the former colony to China in 1997.

London answered by loosening British residency rights for BNO holders. They and their relatives will be able to access special visas starting next January, and they can apply for permanent residency in the U.K. after five years. After another year, candidates can apply for British citizenship.

This diplomatic row come on top of the British government announcing it will suspend an extradition treaty with Hong Kong. The U.K. has also banned China's Huawei Technologies from participating in the country's 5G mobile network.

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