As published on afr.com, Thursday 11 February, 2021.
Tens of thousands of Australian-Hong Kongers will be denied consular assistance and could be asked to renounce their foreign passports as China moves to abolish dual citizenship in the territory as part of a wider clampdown on the city’s freedoms.
Australia has joined Britain and Canada in warning its dual-passport citizens they could be treated as a Chinese citizen by local authorities even if they entered Hong Kong on their foreign passport.
The move came after chief executive Carrie Lam confirmed her government was strictly enforcing mainland Chinese nationality rules that bar Chinese citizens from holding two passports.
Many Hong Kong residents, including senior government officials and business tycoons, have foreign passports. As well as the 100,000 Australian citizens living in Hong Kong, the move potentially affects thousands of other Hong Kong citizens living in Australia who return regularly to the territory.
It also further exposes them to China’s national security laws that carry sentences of up to life in prison for treason, sedition or colluding with foreign forces. Under the government’s new approach to dual citizenship, they would be denied consular protection or assistance if they got into trouble.
The Australian government updated its travel advice for Hong Kong late on Wednesday to warn the Chinese territory no longer recognised dual citizenship. Britain and Canada have also expressed concern at the move.
The move has alarmed diplomats from Australia, Britain and Canada. Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong residents emigrated to those countries before and after the 1997 handover to China although many returned. However, some noted that Australians of Chinese heritage had long been treated as Chinese citizens once they stepped foot in Hong Kong or mainland China, regardless of what foreign passport they held.
Canada last month expressed concern about the move after an imprisoned Hong Kong resident with a Canadian passport was asked to declare which country he was a citizen of. Residents in trouble with the authorities who declare themselves Australian could lose their residency rights to live in Hong Kong.
The UK also warned this week that its citizens with Chinese nationality could be treated as a Chinese citizen by local authorities even if they entered Hong Kong on a British passport.
China has also banned British National Overseas (BNO) passports, which the UK has offered to millions of Hong Kong residents as a pathway to citizenship in that country if they wanted to leave the former British colony.
“The decision to stop recognising dual nationality is self-defeating. It will fail to stop people leaving under the BNO scheme and will add to the chilling affect which is already threatening Hong Kong’s reputation as an international hug,” Hong Kong Watch policy director Johnny Patterson said on Twitter.
Beijing has made it increasingly clear that Hong Kong dual citizenship will be phased out even though many of the city’s leaders, government officials and business tycoons and their children have foreign passports.
Two Australian citizens, journalist Cheng Lei and writer Yang Hengjun, are currently in detention in mainland China.