Beijing is pressing Hong Kong’s elite to give up their western passports in order to be selected for the Chinese parliament as it tries to stamp out foreign influence and tighten control of the territory.
Officials told politicians and tycoons wishing to represent Hong Kong at China’s top decision-making body to renounce passports or travel documents from countries including the UK, according to one new delegate, one former delegate and another person briefed on the selection process.
Members of China’s National People’s Congress, which opened its annual meeting at the weekend, are selected every five years. In December, Beijing selected 36 delegates from Hong Kong, the first time they have chosen representatives from the territory since the 2019 pro-democracy protests, which China blamed on “foreign forces”.
While Hong Kong citizens hold Chinese passports, many residents of the former UK colony are eligible for the British National (Overseas) travel document, which is a path to citizenship. Significant numbers also hold Canadian, Australian or US passports.
At least one NPC delegate intending to seek another term was denied a seat because they held a BNO, the people said. While Beijing had previously said that BNO holders were eligible for the NPC, the “message was either you give it up or you don’t run”, said another former NPC delegate.
The Hong Kong Liaison Office, Beijing’s representative in the city, did not respond to a request for comment.
The pressure to renounce foreign passports comes after Beijing implemented a “patriots ruling Hong Kong” policy, an intensive vetting program for leadership roles in the city as China seeks to sideline local politicians with strong ties to the west from powerful positions. The rules also govern elections for the Legislative Council, Hong Kong’s de facto parliament, which is now comprised entirely of pro-Beijing legislators.
An NPC Hong Kong delegate selected by Beijing told the Financial Times that Beijing’s concern was “understandable as delegates were running for one of the most important” bodies in the country.
Lau Siu-kai, a Beijing adviser and vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, said holding foreign passports or travel documents could be a security risk.
“China is facing increasing national security threats from the US and the west,” Lau said. And when Britain has been offering BN(O) as a pathway to residency and citizenship. . . it creates questions of loyalty.”
While some countries impose citizenship requirements on elected officials, the situation presents a test for Hong Kong’s globe-trotting elite, many of whom want to retain dual nationality.
After the 2019 protests, more than 160,000 Hongkongers applied for British citizenship, with at least 105,200 having already arrived in the UK.
The scheme has railed Beijing, with former foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian saying “all of our Hong Kong Chinese compatriots are Chinese citizens”. China has also said it will not recognize UK passports offered to former Hong Kong residents.
CY Leung, a senior Chinese official and Hong Kong’s former leader, told the FT last week that all political figures in Hong Kong, including representatives to Beijing political bodies and members of the pro-government legislature, “should give up foreign passports, [and] definitely British and US ones”, citing the risk of sanctions as a reason.
“Would the long arm of US [prosecutors target those who held on to their passports] as US citizens. . . acting against US interest or ideology?”
During a national security education event last month, Leung said those refusing to give up their documents were “making up nonsense excuses”.