Back in the early 1990s and living in Hong Kong, I was a member of a group of British expatriates who formed a small lobby group to try and persuade the British Government to issue British passports to every Hong Kong citizen (there were 6 million at the time). We believed that, as British subjects, Hong Kong residents were entitled to a passport and, before handing the colony over to China, Britain had a moral obligation to offer this as a final parting gesture. We received support for this proposal from the last Governor of Hong Kong, Lord Chris Patten and his predecessor, Sir David Wilson.
Of course, whilst many people laughed at this preposterous idea, some British MPs actually travelled to Hong Kong to meet us (no doubt at taxpayers expense) to listen to our concerns and give their views which, in all cases, was that Britain couldn’t risk the possibility of 6 million HKers turning up in the UK and expecting to be given “the right of abode”. Whilst we pointed out that this wasn’t going to happen and, in any case, there was a moral obligation, this fell on deaf ears. After months of lobbying, the Government did end up offering 50,000 passports under the “British Nationality (Hong Kong) Selection Scheme” which, in a final act of defiance by the Hong Kong people towards their former colonial masters, were only partly taken up.
I’ve often wondered what the situation would look like today if every member of every Hong Kong family had a British passport? It would change the dynamics somewhat, particularly in relation to Hong Kong’s relationship with China, and it would provide some obligation on the UK to offer consular protection to its passport holders in certain circumstances. But would it make the current situation in Hong Kong any better, worse, or still the same? Please feel free to share your views on this as I can’t decide? I can see that it would be better in some ways, but worse in others. What do you think? I’ll publish your views in a future issue of China Bites.