Hong Kong BNO Visa protest against China

China Will Not Recognise British National Overseas Citizens: Yet Another Hangover of Imperialist Colonialism

China will no longer recognise the British National Overseas passport as a valid document for Hong Kong residents from Sunday, after the UK said it could be used as a route to British citizenship.

This announcement comes after Britain confirmed that changes under the new Hong Kong British National Overseas visa route would be in place from this Sunday. On that same day, the 31st of January, China will ‘no longer recognise the so-called BNO passport as a travel document or proof of identity’.

China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijan stated that the British offer is an ‘attempt to turn a large number of Hong Kong people into second-class British citizens’ and ‘has completely changed the original understanding of the BNO’. China contends that British ‘interference’ is a severe violation of international relations, by fast-tracking a new route to the UK.

The new BNO Visa allows BNO holders and their immediate family members, if successful on the application, to stay in the UK for either three or five years after which they can apply to settle and then for citizenship. Britain expects up to 300,000 Hong Kongers to take up its citizenship offer through the new BNO Visa route, out of 5.4 million citizens who are eligible including 2.9 million BNO passport holders and their dependents.

According to a Hong Kongers in Britain (HKB) survey of 315 Hong Kong citizens, almost 90% plan to emigrate to the UK within two years and 93% intend to apply for full citizenship, once they have lived in the country for five years. For the vast majority included in the HKB report, it seems this is a path to a new life for good.

China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijan stated that the British offer is an ‘attempt to turn a large number of Hong Kong people into second-class British citizens’

Hong Kong passport and British passport
British and Hong Kong passports [Image: Shutterstock]

It comes as no surprise that China has seen British moves as an attack on national sovereignty in the midst of the bitter feud. The implementation of China’s new security law last July criminalised acts of sedition against the government and cracked down on civil liberties led to Britain alleging the actions disregarded the original terms of Chinese-British agreements. China is now restricting the movement rights of their own people, and therefore arguably their human rights.

While Boris Johnson said in a statement that he was ‘immensely proud…that we have stood up for freedom and autonomy’, it seems laughable and disturbing that nobody saw this coming.

British National Overseas passports (BNO) were issued in 1997 by the British government as part of the one country, two systems agreement when handing the former colony to China. If the document is no longer recognised by China, it could make it incredibly difficult for Hong Kongers to fly to the UK.

For the vast majority included in the HKB report, it seems this is a path to a new life for good

All those who applied for a BNO passport had to have been born before the handover in 1997 and it only allowed the holder to visit for six months but gave no right to live, work or become a citizen in Britain.

The extension of British power into China by establishing the new pathway to settlement has brought tensions to a head. The problem of not regularising citizenship and the legacies of imperialist colonialism leave the people of Hong Kong caught in the middle. Hong Kong citizens hold two passports, and will be essentially the only group in China with a kind of ‘dual nationality’.

State violence enacted by national borders and increasingly nativist governments choosing to arbitrarily extend their power. China as a country does not recognise dual citizenship, and past cases have highlighted the effect this has on people’s human and legal rights.

Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai was a Chinese born Swedish citizen, kidnapped by the Chinese government. He was one of five people who disappeared associated with the same book shop in Hong Kong in 2015 that released novels critical of the country’s political class.

The court where Minhai was tried accepted he had become Swedish in the 1990s but that he applied to restore his Chinese citizenship in 2018. He had been partially released in 2017 but was unable to leave the country and detained once again in January 2018. Therefore, during the time he was kept by Chinese authorities, human rights organisations agree this could have been done as a way to block Swedish authorities from supporting him.

In February last year, Gui was sentenced to 10 years in prison and his political rights taken away for an additional five. He was tried and convicted in secret.

Furthermore, the extent of the activities of the Chinese state against the Uighur people, Muslim Turks from the Northwest of the country, are shrouded in secrecy. But reports and evidence of slave labour, in camps designed to completely decimate the ancient culture, show the lengths the country will go to have a singularity in their population’s identity.

Camps in China [Image: Reuters, BBC]

Standing up for the values of autonomy and freedom through bluster and bombast is one thing. But when the outcome is citizens trapped by a poorly thought out visa scheme that might trap Hong Kong citizens in China and put them potentially at even more risk of state crackdown, those values come up woefully short.

Speaking out against any abuses by the Chinese state is absolutely necessary and Hong Kong citizens moving to the UK would provide critical support of multi-culturalism in a time of insular politics. But for all those who watch the Home Office and shiver at the progress of hostile environment policies against those who come here, from Highly Skilled Visa holders threatened with deportation to those attempting to claim asylum trapped in army barracks, this feels incredibly worrying.

Britain cannot set the world to rights and certainly hasn’t been leading by example. The devastating impact of the Windrush scandal still reverberates across the country and is far from over for those whose lives were directly affected.

The extension of British power into China by establishing the new pathway to settlement has brought tensions to a head. The problem of not regularising citizenship and the legacies of imperialist colonialism leave the people of Hong Kong caught in the middle

Hong Kong city [Image: Free Movement]

The Home Office destroyed thousands of landing cards and documentation for those that arrived as Commonwealth citizens from Caribbean countries between 1948 and 1973 to work. People who were automatically British citizens and able to live in the UK were left ultimately without legal status. Many were detained and deported. Years on, the vast majority still have not received the compensation they were promised by those who extended the invitation.

HKB’s reporting also showed high numbers of respondents that were worried about receiving adequate protection from the reach of the Chinese government. Those who were directly or indirectly caught up in the protests, almost 9000 of whom were arrested, need their rights enshrining as do any groups who feel at risk.

As the British government is still caught up in making headlines ‘getting tough’ on foreign powers, is this who should be handling the delicate balancing act of human rights and citizenship?

[Header Image: The Guardian]