Hongkongers with dual nationality are not entitled to foreign consular assistance, the city’s leader has said, confirming warnings by western diplomats that authorities have begun strictly enforcing Chinese nationality regulations.
On Tuesday the Hong Kong chief executive, Carrie Lam, confirmed that while residents could have multiple passports, dual nationality was not recognised in Hong Kong under China’s nationality law.
“That [law] has a very specific provision that people [who] have foreign nationality or right of abode elsewhere … are regarded as Chinese nationals in Hong Kong,” Lam said. “So likewise they will not be eligible for consular protection, including consular visits,” she added, unless they had received permission to renounce their Chinese nationality.
Canada’s foreign affairs department announced last week that a dual national in prison in Hong Kong was required to make a declaration choosing a single nationality.
The revelation sent diplomats from Britain, Canada and the United States scrambling given the potential implications for hundreds of thousands of Hongkongers in the city with dual nationality, and those who travel there for business and tourism.
Beijing’s top lawmaking body set the rules for implementing nationality in Hong Kong in 1996 – the year before the handover from Britain. As a result Hong Kong officials have described the move to reject consular assistance for dual nationals as nothing new.
But western diplomats say there has been a concrete policy change because they previously had no problem visiting dual nationals in custody.
No Hong Kong official, including Lam, has publicly addressed whether any order has been made to more strictly enforce nationality rules.
On Monday night Britain’s consulate changed its travel advice after it said it had been informed that “Hong Kong, like other parts of China, does not recognise dual nationality”.
“If you have both British and Chinese nationality you may be treated as a Chinese citizen by local authorities, even if you enter Hong Kong on your British passport,” the consulate warned. “If this is the case, the British consulate may not be able to offer you consular assistance.”
The apparent change comes amid clashes between Beijing and western nations over its crackdown in the finance hub following 2019’s widespread democracy protests.
The change is most likely to affect ethnic Chinese dual citizens in Hong Kong.
Mainland China has even stricter dual citizenship laws that stipulate people are not allowed to own another country’s passport – although many, especially wealthy elites, simply keep it secret. In January the UK began offering extended visas to holders of British National (Overseas) passports, to which all Hongkongers born before the 1997 handover are entitled.
Beijing responded by announcing it would no longer recognise the passports.