It is time to recognize HK Chinese as Chinese

Updated: 2017-03-07 07:06

By Lau Nai-keung(HK Edition)

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Hong Kong is largely a homogenous society; ethnically most residents identify themselves as Chinese.

Legally speaking, however, that's another story. The city's population was approximately 7.31 million in 2015. The vast majority are of Chinese descent but foreign nationals comprise 8.5 percent - a significant minority.

We also have to be careful to identify all people of Chinese descent as Chinese. The Nationality Law of the People's Republic of China (PRC) maintains that Hong Kong residents who are of Chinese descent and born in Chinese territories (including Hong Kong) are Chinese nationals. This is a very generous definition. It is so generous that it is prone to abuse.

The same law also stipulates that the PRC does not recognize dual nationality for any Chinese national. Chinese nationals of the special administrative region who have right of abode in foreign countries may, for the purpose of traveling, use relevant documents issued by foreign governments.

However, they will not be entitled to consular protection in the SAR and other parts of China on account of holding these documents.

It is time to recognize HK Chinese as Chinese

In practice, many Chinese nationals in Hong Kong have more than "right of abode" in foreign countries, and use their documents for purposes far beyond "traveling". But perhaps out of concern that if asked to renounce their foreign citizenship, some Hong Kong Chinese would have resisted, the government has always been lenient toward these de facto dual nationality cases.

Discrimination and injustice toward ethnic minorities in the city are exposed from time to time. Although what has been done is far from enough, it is now generally recognized that ethnic minorities, especially non-white ones, encounter hardships in everyday life, particularly in financial and housing services.

The former practice of putting ethnic minorities into designated schools, which ended some years ago, was widely criticized as it segregated them from the Chinese population for more than a decade.

Right now, the government is prioritizing provision of teaching Cantonese as a second language to non-native speakers as a means of empowering them.

What is never discussed, however, is what it means to be a Chinese national in the SAR.

We want to instill patriotism among Hong Kong people, which of course is important, but the issue is not that simple. What does patriotism mean to the foreign nationals living here as permanent residents?

With a foreign judge recently facing criticism over his sentencing of seven police officers, this basic question can no longer be ignored.

Patriotism is first and foremost a sense of identity. If we want Chinese nationals in Hong Kong to identify themselves as Chinese, the only effective way is to make them feel they are different from foreign residents in the city.

In short, they should be subject to a set of rights and responsibilities which is not the same as that of foreign residents, but has more in common with that of their compatriot nationals on the Chinese mainland.

The approach I advocate is the opposite of current policy and practice. The "privileges" that Chinese nationals in Hong Kong enjoy are few and remote. They are mainly political rights, such as eligibility for office of the Chief Executive.

In everyday life, Chinese nationals in Hong Kong are constantly reminded that they share more similarities with the foreign residents (including Chinese holding foreign passports) in Hong Kong than with their compatriots on the mainland.

That's not what "One Country, Two Systems" is supposed to mean.

We should rethink many existing arrangements. Take foreign investment enterprises (FIEs) for example. FIEs face tight government regulation over almost all aspects of their business; this limits efficiency and restricts a foreign company's ability to profit from foreign ventures and reduces the control a foreign parent has over the FIE.

If a Hong Kong Chinese national forms a company on the mainland, it is automatically an FIE even though he or she may have raised all the capital from within the mainland - ie, no "foreign capital" involved.

To foster patriotism in Hong Kong, we must change how we look at and treat its indigenous Chinese nationals.

It is time for a rethink on the rights of Hong Kong Chinese nationals.

(HK Edition 03/07/2017 page8)