My Take

Holding a foreign passport is fine – as long as no one finds out

Panama Papers have exposed Chinese ‘patriots’ to charges of hypocrisy, but Beijing isn’t too concerned; after all, it still has the upper hand

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 May, 2016, 9:55pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 May, 2016, 10:10am

The Panama Papers have come up with many intriguing, and to their subjects, embarrassing revelations. Among these are the number of prominent public figures in Hong Kong and Macau who hold a foreign passport. This opens such self-styled Chinese patriots to charges of hypocrisy. But what is perhaps more interesting is Beijing’s nonchalant attitude towards such alleged breaches.

These include Peter Lee Ka-kit, vice-chairman of Henderson Land Development, and the oldest son of tycoon Lee Shau-kee; Lau Ming-wai, chairman of the Commission on Youth and head of Chinese Estates Holdings, a post he took over from his billionaire father, Joseph Lau Luen-hung; and Macau businessman Ngan In-leng, a standing committee member who represents Macau in the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Lee and Lau are both British nationals, while Ngan holds a Singaporean passport.

Both Lee and Ngan sit on the standing committee of the CPPCC, whose members are not supposed to hold a foreign passport.

Lau’s case is a little different but has attracted widespread attention. The commission he heads sponsors young people on exchange tours to the mainland and for internships with mainland-based companies. The aim is to promote better understanding of China and, of course, to foster love of the nation.

Many people have expressed surprise and shock. Local internet forums such as Hong Kong Golden are full of nasty comments.

But given the CPPCC and such advisory bodies as the youth commission are full of people from the two special administrative regions’ elites, it would be more surprising if they didn’t hold a foreign passport.

And unless you are being appointed to an executive or ministerial position in one of the SARs, having a foreign nationality is more of a public relations problem than a legal one.

Beijing is perfectly fine with such friendly “dual nationals”, so long as they don’t publicise their status. One reason is that as part of a global drive, it is trying to engage ethnic Chinese living in other countries to identify themselves with China and “contribute” to it. Naturally, having a foreign passport is no barrier.

Second, China doesn’t recognise dual nationality anyway. If you are ethnically Chinese and get into trouble on the mainland, your foreign passport isn’t going to help if officials want to play hardball.