BRITAIN'S treatment of most people in Hongkong on the issue of nationality has left many disillusioned about London's bona fides on the matter. The right of abode, for instance, has long been taken away and is not available even for Hongkong people born in the United Kingdom or married to UK citizens. Even last night's attempt to reshape the British nationality package fails to increase the number Britain will accept. But it was the decision to revoke Hongkong people's British Dependent Territories Citizenship (BDTC) and replace it with the status of British National (Overseas) (BNO) that has sparked the most recent outbreak of anger here. Every change in the nationality rules, however minor, is treated as suspicious, the fear being that it might be an attempt to restrict further the rights a Hongkong British passport confers. So legislators reacted with fury to the secret decision to phase out the old BDTC passports before 1997. Britain has reassured Hongkong that BNO passport holders will be treated no differently. But underlying the debate is the worry that anyone who accepted a BNO document before 1997 would later be accused of renouncing British citizenship. How would a BNO holder fare should he wish to test Britain's pledge that anyone who wanted to leave Hongkong after 1997 would be considered sympathetically? London's decision this week to allow Hongkong British citizens to hold both passports in the run-up to 1997 will reduce the heavy burden of suspicion. But this is a minor concession from a new Home Secretary for whom the whole row must seem minor. It is a politician's ploy to give way on a controversial side-show, the better to stick to his guns on the main issue. Britain believes its offer of passports for 50,000 key Hongkong households under the 1990 nationality package has removed the sting from the territory's call for full British citizenship for all BDTC passport holders. But it has done nothing to help the spouses of UK passport holders, the tiny number of elderly women still claiming citizenship as widows of men who died for Britain in World War II, or Hongkong's ethnic minorities. London has little to lose by making the moral decision to accept such a relatively small number of people, despite the fears of a racist backlash upon which the opponents of immigration trade. Few of them would choose to emigrate unless the climate worsened considerably, and those that did would make a contribution to the British economy. Britain should think again.