China aims to block Hong Kong citizens moving to the UK

Row erupts as Beijing tries to stop exodus after dismantling the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ model

China has been accused of “bullying” after refusing to allow Hong Kong citizens to leave the city using British National Overseas passports.

The row erupted after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it would not recognize BNO travel documents as valid. Beijing’s decision came 48 hours before the British government was due to roll out an online residency visa scheme for BNO passport-holders after announcing the plan last year.

Up to 300,000 Hong Kong citizens were expected to move to the UK in the next five years after China imposed a wide-ranging national security law on the former British colony in 2020. But it is now unclear whether they will still be allowed to leave, fuelling anger against President Xi Jinping’s ruling Communist Party.

“It makes [China] look weak, bullying and petulant. For a country that wants to garner respect, it is not the way to go ahead with it,” UK politician Bob Seely said as reported by the British media.

The facts:

  • There are 2.9 million Hong Kong citizens eligible to move to the UK along with 2.3 million dependants.
  • The new visa scheme is being launched on January 31.
  • On Friday, China revealed it will no longer recognize BNO passports from Sunday.
  • It is not yet clear what that will mean for people wanting to leave the city.
  • The offer to settle in the UK was announced by Boris Johnson’s UK government last summer.
  • The move came after China started to dismantle the “One Country, Two Systems” model agreed by Beijing and London before the UK handover of Hong Kong in 1997.
  • Last year, China launched an unprecedented crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement after the summer of discontent in 2019.
  • Local elections were scrapped and pro-democracy parties targeted by the CCP.

What was said: “From January 31, China will no longer recognize the so-called BNO passport as a travel document and ID document, and reserves the right to take further actions. Britain is trying to turn large numbers of Hong Kong people into second-class British citizens. This has completely changed the original nature of BNO,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular media briefing in Beijing.

Reaction to the news: “The question is how long is the free world going to continue to turn a blind eye to this appalling arrogant, dictatorial behavior of the Chinese Government and still continue to run to them with money as though there is no problem? There is a major problem. Chinese behavior now is unbalancing the world order, and it is deeply dangerous … it is high time that the free world came together and agreed on a common purpose,” Iain Duncan Smith, the former leader of the UK Conservative Party, told the London-based Daily Mail.

China Factor comment: Beijing appears determined to lock down Hong Kong and decide who can and who can not leave the city. At the same time, China is rounding up pro-democracy activists, expanding mainland security services there, and beating the “patriotic” drum. Earlier this week, President Xi again called for Hong Kong to be always “governed by” CCP “patriots.” His rhetoric was a far cry from UK Prime Minister Johnson’s comments. “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 … and [that] we have stood up for freedom and autonomy – values the UK and Hong Kong hold dear,” he said.