Saturday, 01 August 2020 11:39

China threatens to stop recognizing British passports

China is threatening to stop recognizing the British passports held by millions of Hong Kongers, creating the prospect of up to three million people being banned from leaving the region.

Liu Xiaoming, China's ambassador to the UK, on Thursday issued the threat in the latest escalation of a dispute between London and Beijing which began when China imposed a draconian security law on Hong Kong, a former British colony.

The new law, which has seen hundreds of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong arrested, prompted Boris Johnson's UK government to offer all Hong Kong citizens some three million people the chance to live and work in Britain via five years limited leave, which could then lead to full UK citizenship. 

Xiaoming yesterday warned the UK that China would take steps to stop recognizing British national (overseas) passports as valid travel documents, effectively banning Hong Kong citizens from leaving and moving to the UK.

"Since the UK violated the pledge and commitment on BNO we have to take other measures not to recognise the BNO as a valid travel document,he said in a press conference on Thursday.

He insisted "China threatens no onebut "we just let you know the consequences."

Xiaoming said: "China wants to be a friend of the UK and a UK partner, but if you do not want to be a partner and our friend, and you want to treat China as a hostile power, you will pay the price.

"We have a thousand reasons to make this relationship successful and not one reason to make it fail."

The new law imposed on Hong Kong by the Chinese Communist Party, which is also opposed by the European Union and the US, is designed to curtail anti-government protests there.

Prime Minister Johnson said it breached the Sino-British Joint Declaration that the UK and China signed in 1984 by effectively putting an end to the "one country, two systemsagreement under which China promised to grant Hong Kong more freedoms than the mainland for 50 years from its return to Chinese control in 1997.

The UK government has estimated that as of February there were around 350,000 holders of British national (overseas) passports in Hong Kong, and 2.9 million people who could claim one.

The dispute over Hong Kong is just one several sources of tension between Johnson's UK government and China.

Beijing reacted with anger to the UK's decision to remove Chinese telecoms firm Huawei from its 5G networks by 2027, with the Chinese foreign ministry accusing Britain of being "America's dupe." 

London is also putting increasing pressure on China over its human rights abuses against Uighurs in the province of Xinjiang.

Ambassador Xiaoming was last week confronted on live television with leaked drone footage that appears to show shaven-headed and bound Uighur Muslims sitting blindfolded before being led onto trains.

Xiaoming did not deny the veracity of the footage, which first emerged last year , to the BBC's Andrew Marr, but insisted that it could simply show a normal "transfer of prisonersin the country.

In his press conference on Thursday, the Chinese ambassador to the UK sought to debunk claims that Beijing was suppressing Uighurs, claiming that those sent to re-education camps were being de-radicalised.

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