My Take

Ethnic Chinese caught between a rock and hard place when they want to enter the mainland

For most countries, citizenship is a legal concept; in China, it’s both legal and racial

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 July, 2016, 10:54pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 July, 2016, 10:12am

Since recent reports by Reuters and Ming Pao that two Canadian-born teenagers were denied 10-year visas to China because their parents were born in Hong Kong, there has been something of a panic among the Hong Kong-Canadian community.

This is understandable. Many of us move between the two places and maintain close family and business ties in both. Naturally, we want the convenience of travelling in and out of the mainland as Hong Kong residents while enjoying the consular protection of foreigners on mainland soil – in case we run into trouble.

This was possible in the run-up to the 1997 handover and during the first few years thereafter. In recent years, however, mainland authorities have quietly enforced much tougher rules. I have personally experienced the changes in the past two decades.

Ottawa seeks answers: HK-born Canadians are denied 10-year mainland visas and told to travel as Chinese citizens, reports claim

As late as 1998, I could use my Canadian passport at the Shenzhen checkpoint to get a restricted visa, which was only good for a few days and only for travel within the city. It could be done in less than 30 minutes. I did that for reporting in Shenzhen and Guangdong so I didn’t have to register as a journalist and so I would be recognised as a Canadian, on the off chance I got into trouble while doing my job.

I tried again in 2000, and the checkpoint officer promptly sent me back to Lo Wu. Thereafter, I had to apply for a home return permit like everyone else. That establishes me as a Chinese national, not a Canadian.

You might have been born in Canada – but does Beijing think you could be a Chinese citizen?

My two children were born in Hong Kong after 2000. Both had their first Canadian passports and citizenship cards before they turned one. Two years ago, their school organised mainland trips. On seeing they looked Chinese, the staffer at the China Travel Service refused to accept their visa applications. If they wanted to enter the mainland as Canadians, they had to travel to Canada and apply for a mainland visa through a Chinese consulate there.

In the end, my kids applied for SAR passports so they could get their home return permits. That, of course, made them Chinese rather than Canadians.

The policy is to blur the difference between being an ethnic Chinese and a Chinese national. For most countries, citizenship is a legal concept. In China, it’s both legal and racial.