Beijing has blasted Britain’s BNO visa scheme for what it describes as creating ‘second-class’ citizens. According to official figures, nearly 90,000 Hong Kong nationals have applied to resettle in the UK after China imposed a new national security law on the former British territory. The scheme was launched in January 2021.
China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, said: “In a blatant violation of its international commitment, the UK tries to turn many Hong Kong residents into ‘second-class citizens’ in the UK and reap benefit from this.”
Approximately 88,000 Hong Kong citizens have applied for the new UK visa scheme following its launch at the start of 2021. The route was opened after the Chinese government introduced a new national security law that sought to quash political dissent and calls for democracy in Hong Kong against those in power in China.
National security law ‘necessary’
The Chinese government, and some officials in Hong Kong, have insisted that the national security law is ‘necessary to restore order and stability’. However, following the imposition of the law, thousands of people have been seen heading for Hong Kong airports to travel to Britain.
Hong Kongers born in the former British colony prior to its return to Chinese rule in 1997 are eligible for a BNO passport. The BNO visa scheme expands the rights of BNO passport holders, giving them and their dependents a pathway to live in the UK and apply for citizenship.
The UK government has estimated that as many as 330,000 Hong Kongers may arrive within the first five years of the BNO visa scheme’s launch.
Retaliating to Britain’s BNO visa scheme, the Chinese government said that it would ‘no longer recognise the BNO passport as a valid travel document’.
Attacking and smearing China
As relations between Britain and China continue to sour, Lijian accused Westminster of ‘attacking and smearing’ China following a recent report that raised concerns over diminishing rights and freedoms in Hong Kong.
The foreign ministry spokesperson said: “The UK is obsessed with issuing the so-called semi-annual reports to attack and smear China and interfere in Hong Kong affairs out of [an] ideological bias. China strongly deplores and firmly rejects this.”
The report in question is understood to have referenced major political developments from January to June, including the mass arrest of 55 pro-democracy activists, the forced closure of the pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, and Beijing’s overhaul of the city’s electoral processes, which reduced direct democratic representation.
In the report UK foreign secretary, Liz Truss, wrote: “Just over a year since the introduction of the national security law, the mainland Chinese and Hong Kong authorities have used the law and related institutions against all opposition, free press and civil society in Hong Kong.”
When the BNO scheme was first announced, Lijian said: “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.”
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