The UK has warned the British in Hong Kong that the territory no longer recognizes dual citizenship and that it may no longer be able to assist citizens who also have a local passport.
“If you have both British and Chinese citizenship, you can be treated as a Chinese citizen by the local authorities even if you enter Hong Kong with your British passport,” the British Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said in an update on its travel advice. “If this is the case, the British Consulate General may not be able to provide you with consular assistance.”
The shift in practice is in line with other efforts to bring the area – which was promised a high degree of autonomy from mainland China for decades in the 1997 handover from the UK – closer to the rest of China.
It also coincides with the crackdown by the Hong Kong authorities, which began with the promulgation of a new strict national security law in the middle of last year and now goes beyond the imprisonment of opposition leaders in order to reform Hong Kong society. The law was Beijing’s response to ongoing pro-democracy protests in 2019.
The warning highlights how life has become more precarious for the hundreds of thousands of dual Chinese nationals in Hong Kong, who have been able to work in the city while maintaining family ties abroad and vice versa.
The UK warning was issued in response to an attempt by the Hong Kong government to dissuade diplomats, including those from Canada and the US, from providing assistance to Chinese dual citizens with foreign passports who had been arrested in the city or in certain cases. detained.
Dual citizenship is not recognized in the Chinese nationality law, which also applies in Hong Kong, but the Hong Kong government has long been giving diplomats access to these dual citizens.
‘If there are problems now to access these people. . . in hypothetical cases there may be a problem accessing in the future, ”said a diplomat.
The Hong Kong security bureau said locals with international travel documents were not entitled to consular protection and their application to renounce their Chinese citizenship had to be approved before being considered as aliens.
China indicated last month that it would make life more difficult for Hong Kongers with a passport that the UK is offering to some residents of the area. The move was in response to Britain’s offering up to 3 million of the city’s population a new path to citizenship through these British overseas national passports.
The UK Home Office has said that approximately 7,000 BNO passport holders were allowed to remain in the UK between July and January, even before the new citizenship route was formally opened for applications.
Beijing said it would stop recognizing BNO status passports as valid identification, while local authorities in Hong Kong said they would require airlines to verify that Hong Kong residents boarding had a local passport or ID.
At this stage, the steps have not affected a large number of local residents, as most do not rely on these passports to travel, but Beijing has said it reserves the right to take further action.
The US and Canada have both expressed concerns in recent weeks about restrictions on access to detained dual nationals and said Hong Kong is forcing people to make a decision about nationality.
“We are deeply concerned that this new Hong Kong policy will force people to declare their citizenship under duress and without the ability to understand the full implications of the statement, and is ripe for abuse by law enforcement officials,” said the US State Department. Affairs.
The Section added that consular notice and entry obligations towards dual nationals apply under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.
Johnny Patterson, policy director of Hong Kong Watch, a London-based charity that campaigns for human rights in Hong Kong, said the city was traditionally a “melting pot” and many of its residents had dual citizenship.
“The decision to no longer recognize dual citizenship is self-defeating,” he said. “It will fail to stop people leaving under the BNO scheme, but may contribute to the chilling effect that is already threatening Hong Kong’s reputation as an international hub.”