CORRECTION NOTICE: An earlier version of this story wrongly suggested the Chinese government asked dual nationals to denounce citizenship. It has since been altered to clarify the process which requires dual nationals to select a nationality while residing in Hong Kong.
About 300,000 Canadian citizens who reside in Hong Kong and hold citizenship may have to make a choice between Canada and China.
The move comes after the Hong Kong government's decision to require dual nationals to declare the nationality they hope to remain while in China. According to reporting in The Telegraph, this could impact a population of dual nationals serving prison time due to their loss of access to consular protection unless they declare a change of nationality.
Hong Kong has long been a place where foreign nationals could come and go without many restrictions, which in turn has attracted international businesses to their growing economy. Lynette Ong, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto, says the move is about tightening control over what people residing in Hong Kong can do, particularly if they’re politically active.
“If they were to do something to break the law but happen to have a passport from a Western nation, they could seek refuge in another country, which would put pressure on Hong Kong and the Chinese government,” she tells Yahoo Canada. “It’s another instance of tightening control over potential subversive behaviour in Hong Kong.”
Since the summer of 2019, there have been active protests in Hong Kong which at times have gotten violent. The protests were a result of pushback to the proposed Hong Kong-China extradition law, which would allow extradition to mainland China.
Ong explains that in response to the protests, Beijing introduced “a very Draconian” national security law at the beginning of last year, which cracked down on a lot of activity.
“It was vaguely worded and included a lot of things into the ambit of the law, including a clampdown on economic freedom, press freedom, freedom of expression to protest, if you go out to protest you could potentially get into trouble” she says. “This (citizenship policy) is an extension of that.”
Min Chung Yan is a Hong Kong-born professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Social Work, who holds a Hong Kong ID card. He says this latest move is likely an attempt for the Chinese government to make sure they have a smooth run of Hong Kong business.
“For a long time there was a saying that the anti-government movement in the last few years was orchestrated and coordinated by foreign powers,” he says. “These notions of conspiracies challenged the Chinese government to review the policy regarding the citizenship of Hong Kong people.”
Yan says this issue over holding dual citizenship was initially raised after the UK government committed to issue a new version of the British National Overseas passport. The latest move will impact about 1 million people in Hong Kong who hold dual citizenship. Those who were born in Hong Kong and have another nationality will be able to stay in the region, but the only change they’ll face is that they won’t be able to run for public office.
“They’ll still enjoy all the social benefits like regular Hong Kong residents,” he says.
Yan says the region has issued new ID cards, so if he, or any other Hong Kong citizen living in Canada with a Canadian passport, were to return to apply for a new one, they'd have to declare a citizenship.
“If I don’t declare, I’ll still be a Chinese citizen,” he explains. “If I do, the record will show I’m a Canadian, and I hold a right of abode. The only trick is that every 36 months I have to visit Hong Kong to declare my right of abode.”