BNO holders who take up UK offer face HK cut

Top News | Mandy Zheng 28 Jul 2020

Beijing could interpret the Basic Law so that Hongkongers who acquire British citizenship via the British National (Overseas) route lose their permanent residency and Chinese nationality, a mainland law expert said.

Tian Feilong, an associate professor at Beihang University's Law School in Beijing, made the comment yesterday during an interview with Television Broadcasts.

"If Britain keeps pushing, [Beijing] could take the move to make it an either-or situation between the right to reside in the UK and Hong Kong," said Tian, who is also a council member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies.

Describing the act as "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," he said this would only target BNO holders. Those holding citizenship of countries other than Britain, like Canada or Australia, would not be affected.

The UK has been paving the way for Hongkongers to emigrate to the country in response to the national security law for Hong Kong, an action rebuked by Beijing.

Starting next year, BNO holders can apply for a special visa allowing them to study or work in the UK for five years. They will be eligible for full citizenship after the five-year stay.

In retaliation, Beijing has said it is considering banning the use of BNO passports as travel documents, which would mean that citizens could no longer leave the SAR or travel overseas with such passports.

Tian also suggested another measure Beijing might adopt to punish fleeing Hongkongers - clearing up the grey area of dual citizenship, which is not uncommon in the SAR, but is officially not recognized by Beijing.

To achieve that, the standing committee of the National People's Congress could interpret Article 24 of Basic Law, according to Tian.

The article stipulates that the SAR's permanent residents shall be Chinese citizens born in Hong Kong or have lived in the city for over seven years continuously, among others.

"The NPC standing committee could clarify that if a permanent resident with Chinese nationality acquires a foreign citizenship, especially a British one based on BNO, then he or she will automatically lose their Chinese nationality and Hong Kong permanent residency," Tian said.

A person deprived of Hong Kong permanent residency would lose all social welfare benefits, as well as the right to vote and to stand for election, he added.

But Tian's comments have left many questions unanswered, including how the NPC standing committee's interpretation of Basic Law could target BNO holders specifically, instead of all residents holding foreign passports.

Foreigners in the city can also vote and benefit from welfare once they become permanent residents.

"When [Beijing] makes a political decision, Chinese laws will be adjusted accordingly," Eric Cheung Tat-ming, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong said. "This is a characteristic of the mainland legal system. It tends not to be bound by rules."

Civic Party lawmaker Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu, who also a barrister, said he believes Beijing will find "all sorts of ways" to identify and punish those fleeing to Britain.

"Of course, the NPC standing committee has the power to do so," Yeung said.

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