Beijing has claimed the UK wants to make Hong Kongers “second-class citizens” with its British national (overseas) (BNO) visa scheme, after new figures showed almost 90,000 people have applied from the former British colony to resettle in the UK.
"[io]in flagrant 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,” foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said in a weekly press conference on Wednesday.
In giro 88,000 Hong Kongers have applied for the new visa pathway to the UK in the first nine months since its launch, according to a report by the UK foreign office released on Tuesday.
The BNO resettlement visa scheme, which began in January, was introduced as part of the UK’s response to Beijing’s imposition of a national security law on Hong Kong last June, which has since been used by local authorities to stamp out political dissent and calls of democracy.
Chinese and Hong Kong officials have argued that the law is necessary to restore order and stability, but long queues of travellers leaving for the UK have been seen at Hong Kong airport in months following the law’s imposition.
Hong Kongers born in the former British colony before it was returned to Chinese rule in July 1997 are eligible for a BNO passport. The BNO visa scheme expands the rights of BNO holders, granting them and their dependents the right to live in the UK a six-year pathway to citizenship.
The UK has predicted that as many as 330,000 Hong Kongers may resettle in the UK within the first five years. In retaliation to the new migration route, Beijing announced in January it will no longer recognise the BNO passport as a valid travel document.
Zhao also accused London of attacking and smearing Cina with its latest report, which raised concerns over diminishing rights and freedoms in Hong Kong.
“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 [un] ideological bias. China strongly deplores and firmly rejects this,” the spokesperson said.
The report addressed major political developments from January to June, including the mass arrest of 55 pro-democracy figures, the forced closure of the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper, and Beijing’s overhaul of the city’s electoral processes reducing direct democratic representation.
“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,” UK foreign secretary Liz Truss wrote in the report.