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21 January
Thursday

World

The UK granting a record "5 passports a minute" to Hong Kong residents

A representative of China's Foreign Ministry accused Britain of violating its commitments to the international community.

Photo: Barcroft Media

/NOVOSTIVL/ As China has strengthened its control over Hong Kong's government this year, Hong Kong citizens have sought out a record number of UK passports, says a report.

The UK Passport Office issued more than 200,000 British National (Overseas), or BN(O), passports to Hongkongers in the first 10 months of the year, a rate that roughly equaled five every minute, according to Bloomberg News, which got the data from the UK Passport Office with a Freedom of Information Act request.

In October, about 60,000 such passports were issued, a more than 50% jump from the same month a year earlier, according to Bloomberg. The UK has issued more passports to Hong Kong residents than any year since 1997, when it handed the country back to China.

At a briefing on Friday, Hua Chunying, a spokesperson for China's Foreign Ministry, said her country has "made clear its position on the BN(O) passport issue." She accused the UK of interfering with political affairs in China and Hong Kong.

According to an official transcript, she said: "It is the British side that has been violating its commitments and repeatedly exploiting the BN(O) passport issue to interfere in Hong Kong affairs and China's internal affairs. The British side broke its promise first. China will consider not recognizing BNO passport as valid traveling document, and China reserves the right to take further measures."

The number of passports issued to Hongkongers so far this year is shy of the total 3 million offered by the UK's prime minister, Boris Johnson, who announced the country would issue the passports in July. China responded by threatening to stop recognizing BN(O) passports.

Johnson's announcement came amid months-long protests in Hong Kong, which since 1997 has been a special administrative region of China. Pro-democracy advocates and demonstrators there have said China's restrictive new security law is stripping away freedoms.

Since the security law passed in June, the US has increased sanctions on banks doing business in Hong Kong. The latter's leader, Carrie Lam, told an interviewer late last month that she's unable to open a bank account, and her $56,000 monthly salary is piled up in cash in her apartment.

The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, on Wednesday issued a statement condemning "political persecution" of pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong.

"The use of courts to silence peaceful dissent is a hallmark of authoritarian regimes and underscores once again that the Chinese Communist Party's greatest fear is the free speech and free thinking of its own people," he said.

China responded by saying it was "a country under the rule of law."

Chunying said: "We urge certain US politicians to stop meddling in China's Hong Kong affairs and deliberately smearing and blaming China in the name of so-called freedom and democracy. In fact, the more they did so, the more people will see through their double standards and hypocrisy."

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