BEIJING, JULY 28 -- China's Foreign Ministry today denounced Britain's plan to grant passports to 50,000 Hong Kong families, saying China will not recognize the passports.

China's attack came five days after the British Parliament adopted a nationality law for Hong Kong that offers full British citizenship and the right to reside in Britain to a small segment of Hong Kong's 5.7 million residents. Most residents of Hong Kong, which has been a British colony for the past century, hold passports as British dependent territory citizens and are not entitled to live in Britain.

China's denunciation of the nationality law came a day after a visit to Beijing by Francis Maude, a senior British Foreign Ministry official with responsibility for Hong Kong, and was broader and more specific than past Chinese attacks on the law. China said it would not recognize the new British passports and would not allow Britain to provide consular protection to Chinese who are granted British citizenship under the act.

China's latest attack on the British law comes at a delicate time for Beijing. China is attempting to project a positive image and rebuild friendships with Western nations. Those ties were severely damaged by the lethal army crackdown on student-led protesters around Tiananmen Square last year.

Maude's visit offered China a chance to break the ice in frozen relations with the European Community. Maude was the first senior European minister to visit China since the crackdown and China appeared to play down differences with Britain during his stay. Maude interpreted this as a positive development and said he had been encouraged by Beijing's "muted response" on the passport issue.

A Western diplomat here said today's denunciation, carried by the official news agency, would only further undermine confidence in Hong Kong, where thousands of citizens have been emigrating each month. China is to resume full sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997.