A passport for its times, and they are passing

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 March, 2009, 12:00am

Long gone are the days when people waited in queues that snaked around blocks and fought for places at the front for the right to apply for British National (Overseas) passports. Since peaking in 2001, issuance of BN(O) passports has fallen consistently. This should not surprise anyone; nor should the rising popularity of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region passport. Whatever setbacks our city has experienced since the 1997 handover, the 'one country, two systems' policy has restored confidence in its future. This is reflected in the fact many Hongkongers have lost interest in holding a BN(O) passport.

An increasing number of the city's residents prefer the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region passport as a travel document, it being a more natural record of their national identity. Many have also come to value the document for the number of countries to which it confers visa-free access, which is comparable to that of the BN(O) passport. Greater trust has also been placed in the consular protection Chinese diplomatic missions offer SAR passport holders.

The offer of a BN(O) passport - a uniquely colonial diplomatic confection that does not give its holders right of abode in Britain - was intended to boost confidence and morale at a time of profound uncertainty before 1997. As such, it has served its historic mission well. There will always be a core group of locals for whom BN(O) passports are preferable. To honour its commitment and responsibility as a former colonial power, Britain should continue to issue the passports as an essential diplomatic service for the city. But even its diplomatic representatives here have welcomed the success of the SAR passport.

The transition after the handover was full of unprecedented challenges. Regrettably, there have been many mistakes, inadequacies and policy failures on the part of those put in change of the city. But they deserve at least some credit for restoring a sense of belonging among people who call the city our home. More and more residents accept or even welcome the yoking of the city's future with the destiny of the nation. And a small but growing number of residents who are not ethnic Chinese have become naturalised Chinese nationals and proud SAR passport holders.

After centuries of decline, war and turmoil, the Chinese nation is at last on an unmistakably upward trajectory. It is not unrealistic to imagine a time when the wealth and living standards of people across the border will match those of Hong Kong. People on the mainland deserve greater freedom of movement. A time will eventually come when there will be no need for any more SARs and separate passports; the artificial separation by border of what ought to be one people will be gone. When that day comes, the SAR passport will simply be replaced by the Chinese national passport.