Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam distances herself from adviser’s call to clamp down on residents acquiring foreign nationality

Natalie Wong
·4-min read

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has distanced herself from an adviser’s call for Beijing to strip residents who acquire foreign citizenship of their right to live in the city.

Lam on Tuesday said her de facto cabinet had not discussed the dual nationality proposal, lodged by a senior pro-establishment figure this week as Hong Kong braced for a surge of emigration after Britain offered locals a new route to citizenship.

The new visa scheme for those eligible for British National (Overseas) status was envisioned as a lifeboat for Hongkongers in the wake of the Beijing-imposed national security law.

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Pro-establishment figure calls for curbs on Hongkongers obtaining dual citizenship

Britain has deemed the legislation a breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, under which London pledged not to confer the right of abode on BN(O) holders who are Chinese nationals in Hong Kong.

Beijing threatened in July to stop recognising BN(O) passports in retaliation for London advancing plans to open its doors to Hongkongers holding the status, as city officials offered their full support to the central government’s response.

Describing Britain’s BN(O) offer as “a slap in the face of Chinese authorities”, Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, a former security chief, wrote in the Post on Sunday that it might be time for Beijing to end its special treatment of Hongkongers and enforce its own nationality law in the city.

Regina Ip, of the New People’s Party. Photo: Sam Tsang
Regina Ip, of the New People’s Party. Photo: Sam Tsang

She suggested revoking the right to live and vote in the city for any resident who acquired foreign citizenship after a “specified cut-off date”.

Politicians from both the opposition and the pro-establishment camps warned that the idea would touch a nerve for many.

Asked to comment on Ip’s plan during a press briefing on Tuesday, Lam said the issue had not been raised in the Executive Council, her team of top ministers and advisers.

Time for Hongkongers to decide who they really are

“The proposal was raised by a pro-establishment member of the Exco, but I don’t want anyone to misunderstand that the Exco has discussed it,” Lam said.

“The Exco did not discuss it, and the Hong Kong government did not propose anything regarding BN(O) passports as travel documents.”

Lam described nationality as “a very sensitive issue” that many residents were concerned about ahead of Hong Kong’s handover to Chinese rule in 1997.

“Due to historical reasons, the Chinese and British governments have reached a consensus on how to handle BN(O) passports. If one side deviated from it unilaterally, it’s reasonable for the other side to react. But for now, I am not aware of discussions on any specific proposal,” she said.

Lam also added that if Beijing imposed any retaliatory measures, her officials would fully cooperate with the central government.

“When the city and the country is faced with unreasonable sanctions, there’s no reason why we should do nothing,” she warned.

Ip’s proposal came as the United States, Canada, Britain and Australia had jointly condemned last week’s mass arrest of 55 opposition politicians and activists in Hong Kong under the national security law.

The legislation was imposed by Beijing on June 30 to ban acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

Under the “one country, two systems” framework, only Beijing has jurisdiction on policies related to nationality. The Hong Kong government has no say over the issue.

China’s Nationality Law has applied in Hong Kong since the city returned to Chinese rule in 1997. Under the law, China does not recognise dual nationality for any Chinese national.

But under a resolution adopted by China’s top legislative body in 1996, “all Hong Kong Chinese compatriots are Chinese nationals”, whether or not they were holders of the BN(O) passport.

It also stipulated that after the 1997 handover, Hong Kong residents could continue to use travel documents issued by the British government. Also, the Immigration Department would be responsible for handling nationality applications in Hong Kong.

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