Hong Kong, January 21 (ANI): London has lambasted Beijing over its threat to stop recognising the British National (Overseas) [BN (O)] passport as a valid travel document, a proposed reprisal against the Western nation for offering Hongkongers a pathway to citizenship in order to escape the draconian National Security Law.
According to South China Morning Post (SCMP), UK officials warned President Xi Jinping's administration that carrying out such a threat would be "in direct contravention" of the Sino-British Joint Declaration signed by both sides in 1997.
The British embassy in Beijing issued a statement on Wednesday, amid media reports that the Chinese government could discuss ways of retaliating against the BN(O) visa scheme during the ongoing meeting in the capital of China's top legislative body, the National People's Congress Standing Committee.
The embassy's statement, as quoted by SCMP, read: "The UK [United Kingdom] has consistently fulfilled all of its obligations under the joint declaration. The joint declaration makes no mention of BN(O)s."
"The UK memorandum connected to the joint declaration is clear that BN(O) status does not confer the right of abode in the UK - that remains the case... The Chinese and British governments exchanged memorandums of understanding attached to the joint declaration in 1984," it added.
The embassy wrote further that the Chinese government had committed to 'permit Chinese nationals in Hong Kong who were previously called British Dependent Territories Citizens to use travel documents issued by the [UK] for the purpose of travelling to other states and regions' and added that "withdrawing recognition of BN(O) passports would be in direct contravention of this commitment by the Chinese government."
It also maintained that "the joint declaration remains a legally binding international agreement".
SCMP reported that in 1997, the BN(O) passports were issued to Hong Kong citizens born before the handover of the region to China. Under the current rules, holders can visit Britain for up to six months, but the documents do not automatically allow them to work or live there. There are about 2.9 million Hongkongers eligible for BN(O) status.
The UK government in July last year announced the introduction of a new Hong Kong BN(O) visa scheme in wake of Beijing imposing the authoritarian security law.
Under the coming arrangement, all British overseas nationals and their dependents can stay in the country for up to five years, with the right to work and study. After that, they will be able to apply for settled status, and can seek citizenship a year later.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the government would cooperate with any response from Beijing to the BN(O) issue.
"If one side, and that is the British government, tries to deviate from that mutual understanding and bilateral agreement, then of course it is legitimate for the other side, that is the [central government], to consider any countermeasures," Lam said as quoted by SCMP.
"The Hong Kong [government] will, of course, support any countermeasures to be adopted by [Beijing]," added Lam.
In order to put a check on dissenting voices, China is planning against BN (O) owners from holding public office in Hong Kong.
The move underscores Beijing's determination to yield full compliance from the Hong Kong government officials, some of whom it had grown to distrust, said a social science scholar and a lawyer.
This comes after the national security law imposed by Beijing on Hong Kong criminalises any act of secession (breaking away from China), subversion (undermining the power or authority of the central government), terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, with punishments of up to life in prison. It came into effect from July 1. (ANI)