Britain on Thursday said the Hong Kong government has no authority to dictate which passports foreign governments recognise as valid.
The Hong Kong government had told 14 countries to stop accepting the special British passport that many young Hong Kong people use to apply for working holiday visas in Europe, North America and parts of Asia.
In a move many see as prompted by Beijing, Hong Kong informed the foreign consulates in a letter that it no longer considers the British National Overseas (BNO) passport a valid travel document and demanded that its Hong Kong passport should be used instead.
“The Hong Kong government has no authority to dictate which passports foreign governments recognise as valid,” a spokesman for the British Foreign Office told Reuters.
“The UK will continue to issue British Nationals (Overseas) passports which remain valid travel documents.”
Almost three million Hong Kong residents hold or are eligible for the BNO document that was created ahead of Britain handing the city back to Chinese rule in 1997.
“Most countries are going to ignore this,” said one senior Western diplomat.
Another envoy described the move as “bordering on belligerent” and said it was not the way the Hong Kong government, generally protective of the city’s standing as an international financial hub, has traditionally behaved.
Officials in Japan, South Korea, Italy, Sweden and New Zealand confirmed to Reuters that they still recognised the BNO passport for visas. South Korea’s foreign ministry added that it had not received the letter, while Hungary said it had and had started talks to change the working holiday programme.
Other nations, including the United States, Finland and Norway, also offer similar arrangements for Hongkongers, and have accepted BNOs from applicants.
Hong Kong has also started to mirror mainland China by not recognising dual nationality, preventing for the first time foreign diplomats from visiting locals with foreign passports in detention.