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A person holds up a British National (Overseas) passport in Hong Kong. Photo: Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images

China will no longer recognize the British National Overseas passport as a valid travel document or proof of identity, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Friday.

Why it matters: The announcement comes amid heightened tensions with the United Kingdom over its plan to offer potentially millions of Hong Kong residents a path to residency, and eventual citizenship.

Driving the news: Britain is set to begin accepting applications from Hong Kong residents for a special BNO visa late Sunday.

  • While the BNO passport has been in use for decades, pressure has been building for the U.K. to expand the rights of its holders, especially after Beijing imposed a draconian national security law on the former British colony last year.
  • Some 5.4 million Hong Kong residents could be eligible for the BNO visa, per AP.

What they're saying: “The British side’s attempt to turn a large number of Hong Kong people into second-class British citizens has completely changed the nature of the two sides’ original understanding of BNO,” Zhao told a news briefing Friday.

  • “This move seriously infringes on China’s sovereignty, grossly interferes in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs, and seriously violates international law and the basic norms of international relations,” he said, adding that China will stop recognizing the passports beginning Sunday.

Between the lines: "Many Hong Kongers carry multiple passports and it is unclear what if anything the Chinese government could do to prevent people entering the U.K. through the BNO visa plan," AP notes.

  • "As a further protection of personal privacy, a cellphone app will allow applicants to download their biometric information without having to been seen visiting the British visa office," the news agency added.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement Friday, “I am immensely proud that we have brought in this new route for Hong Kong BN(O)s to live, work and make their home in our country,” per Reuters.

  • “In doing so we have honored our profound ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong, and we have stood up for freedom and autonomy – values both the UK and Hong Kong hold dear.”

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