Beijing is pressuring Hong Kong's elite to relinquish their western passports in order to be picked for the Chinese parliament, in an effort to eradicate foreign influence and consolidate its control on the region.
According to a new delegate, a previous delegate, and another individual knowledgeable on the selection process, officials instructed politicians and tycoons desiring to represent Hong Kong at China's highest decision-making body to surrender passports and travel documents from the United Kingdom and other countries.
Members of the National People's Congress of China, which began its annual meeting over the weekend, are chosen every five years. In December, Beijing selected 36 delegates from Hong Kong, marking the first time since the 2019 pro-democracy protests that China blamed on "foreign forces" that they have selected members from the territory.
Many residents of the former British colony are eligible for the British National (Overseas) travel document, a pathway to citizenship. Many additionally possess Canadian, Australian, or American passports.
According to the people, at least one NPC representative seeking a second term was denied a seat because they possessed a BNO. While Beijing had previously stated that BNO holders were eligible to run for the NPC, the "message was either you give it up or you don’t run," according to a former NPC delegate.
Beijing's representative in the city, the Hong Kong Liaison Office, did not respond to a request for comment.
The pressure to relinquish foreign passports stems from Beijing's implementation of a "patriots ruling Hong Kong" policy, an extensive vetting program for leadership jobs in the city, as China attempts to marginalize local politicians with strong ties to the west. The regulations also govern elections for the Legislative Council, Hong Kong's de facto parliament, which is currently composed completely of pro-Beijing lawmakers.
A Beijing-selected NPC Hong Kong member said that Beijing's fear was "understandable" given that delegates were standing for one of the country's most important bodies.
Lau Siu-kai, a Beijing-based adviser and vice-president of the Chinese Association for Hong Kong and Macao Studies, stated that possessing a foreign passport or travel document could pose a security concern.
"China is facing increasing national security threats from the US and the west," Lau stated. "Moreover, when Britain offers BN(O) as a pathway to residency and citizenship, it raises questions of loyalty."
While other countries impose citizenship restrictions on elected officials, the scenario poses a challenge for Hong Kong's globetrotting elite, the majority of whom choose to preserve dual nationality.
After the protests of 2019, more than 160,000 Hongkongers sought for British citizenship, with at least 105,200 currently residing in the United Kingdom.
Former foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian stated, "all of our Hong Kong Chinese compatriots are Chinese citizens" in response to the plan, which has angered Beijing. China has also stated that it will not accept the British passports of former Hong Kong residents.
Senior Chinese official and former Hong Kong leader CY Leung said 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 the 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?"
Leung stated last month during a national security education event that people refusing to surrender their passports were "making up nonsense excuses."
By fLEXI tEAM