Why British passports would not have solved Hong Kong’s identity crisis

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 August, 2018, 11:04pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 August, 2018, 11:32pm

I refer to the article, “British bid to deny passports revealed” (July 24). The article cited declassified files which revealed that Britain put pressure on Portugal not to grant nationality to its colonial residents in Macau, to prevent Hongkongers asking for the same treatment as both cities prepared for their return to China.

Whether Hong Kong people would be granted the right of abode in Britain after all lay in the hands of the British government. As for the other special administrative region of China, despite being given Portuguese nationality, most indigenous inhabitants of Macau preferred to remain in their hometown rather than live in any member state of what is now the European Union.

In fact, Macau people like me view the Portuguese passport as just a travel document, providing us with privileged entry to most countries without applying for a visa. Of course, we also feel proud of – and honoured by – the written constitution of Portugal which treats all holders of Portuguese nationality as equal.

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It is understandable that a person’s sense of dignity and privilege is somehow related to his nationality. Once, while going through Hong Kong customs with my Macau SAR passport, I was detained by an official who then led me to a small room for interrogation. I had never had quite such an unhappy experience with my Portuguese passport before then.

The episode is regrettable, but it is a mirror of something to do with the significance of nationality. A British English teacher of mine in the early 1980s told me how fortunate I was that I had a full Portuguese passport, as merely a small number of Chinese people were privileged to hold it. The grounds for the British government not granting Hong Kong people the right of abode in Britain derived from the population in Hong Kong accounting for one-tenth of that in his country, he added.

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In recent days, exponents of Hong Kong’s independence seem to have been in a dilemma about their nationality, as a result of their reluctance to recognise their Chinese nationality and their not being accredited as British citizens by the government in England.

The solution to the problem somehow rests in the mindset of the Hong Kong people, not the British. Even if Hong Kong people are granted the right of abode in Britain, they can never deny their Chinese ethnicity, or they will lose themselves wherever they go.

Barnaby Ieong, Macau