Many Hong Kongers have left the city for the UK since Beijing's crackdown on protesters. Photo: Asia Times

Pro-Beijing newspapers and academies are urging that British National Overseas (BNO) passport holders who become British citizens should be stripped of their Chinese nationality and Hong Kong permanent residency status.

BNO passport holders will be able to apply for a visa to stay and work in the United Kingdom for five years from January 31, 2021. Several Chinese academies are urging the National People’s Congress to reinterpret Article 24 of the Basic Law as retaliation against the UK’s move to grant citizenships to Hong Kong citizens.

On December 14, published a commentary titled “It’s time to end dual-nationality and build identity system for Chinese Hong Kong citizens.”

The commentary cited comments from Chen Duanhong, a professor of Peking University Law School, who wrote in 2016 that Hong Kong permanent residents with foreign passports were lacking political loyalty as they could leave the city whenever they feel unhappy. Chen said the Basic Law granted a lot of civic rights to Hong Kong’s permanent residents but waived their civic responsibilities of being “Chinese nationals.”

Li Peiwen, a researcher at the Center for Basic Laws of Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Regions of Shenzhen University, wrote in an article in 2018 that as the central government wanted to achieve a smooth handover in 1997 and encourage foreigners to stay in Hong Kong and contribute to the territory’s development, which defined all Chinese nationals, non-Chinese nationals and stateless people in Hong Kong as “Hong Kong permanent residents.”

However, the arrangement forced the Chinese government to “naturally exclude Hong Kong people from enjoying the Chinese civic rights,” such as the right to work in the mainland government, Li said. This weakened Hong Kong people’s national identity recognition, he added.

The commentary concluded that it is time to set up a system in Hong Kong to clearly define the rights and responsibilities of nationals, permanent residents and residents, instead of allowing people with dual nationalities to enjoy all the civic rights, including low-cost medical services, public housings, free education and voting rights in the city.

Chau Sze-tat, a political commentator and popular YouTuber, said the commentary was aimed at those who move to the UK with their BNO passports, instead of hundreds of thousands of foreign passport holders in Hong Kong. He said it was urging the standing committee of National People’s Congress to re-interpret Article 24 of the Basic Law to force BNO passport holders to choose between Chinese and UK nationality.

Chau said such a move would not change the decision of people who planned to move out, and middle-class families would not be able to get public housing units anyway, while many were using private medical services. The UK could offer them free education and voting rights, he said.

In July, Tian Feilong, an associate professor at Beihang University’s Law School in Beijing and a director of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said the standing committee of National People’s Congress would re-interpret Article 24 if the UK pushed forward with its plan to grant citizenships to Hong Kong people.

According to Article 9 of China’s Nationality Law, “any Chinese national who has settled abroad and who has been naturalized as a foreign national or has acquired foreign nationality of his own free will shall automatically lose Chinese nationality.”

If Beijing strictly enforced the Nationality Law, people would lose their Chinese nationality and Hong Kong permanent residency after they were granted British citizenship, said Regina Ip, the former Security Bureau chief and a lawmaker of the New People’s Party.

Ip said she thought these people would still be allowed to enter Hong Kong with their British passports.

The British government expects 250,000 to 320,000 Hong Kong people will go to the UK in the next five years, British Consul General in Hong Kong and Macau Andrew Heyn said on December 4.

 Britain is granting BNO passport holders five years “limited leave to remain” that allows them to live and work in Britain. After five years, they will be able to apply for “settled status”, and after 12 months with settled status, they can apply for citizenship. The immediate family of those with BNO status will also be eligible.

On December 10, Benny Tai, a former associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong and a democracy activist, wrote in an article titled “Leave with a mission” that Hong Kong people should not feel guilty if they choose to move out.

Tai said people should form an overseas “yellow” network, the color representing Hong Kong’s democratic movement. He said this “Hong Kong Diaspora” should prepare to return to the city when democracy comes in the future.

On Thursday the People’s Daily published an article slamming Tai for advocating Hong Kong people should emigrate. The party mouthpiece said people who fled overseas and became political refugees and dissidents would only become the tools of the British and United States governments. It said these people would be discarded once they lost their values.

The article said the real mission for Hong Kong people was to stay in the city and contribute to its developments.

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Read: UK eases visa rules for outbound HK families