Thu, 25 Feb 2021

Beijing [China], January 17 (ANI): In order to put a check on dissenting voices, China is planning against British National (Overseas) passport [BN (O)] owners from holding public office in Hong Kong, reported South China Morning Post (SCMP).

Civil servants and other officials could soon find themselves facing the tough choice between keeping their BN (O) passports and retaining their jobs, said analysts Chris Lau and Tony Cheung.

As per them Beijing was mulling banning those who hold the BN (O) passports from serving in the local administration.

The move underscores Beijing's determination to yield full compliance from the Hong Kong government officials, some of whom it had grown to distrust, said a social science scholar and a lawyer.

Beijing is also contemplating to strip them of the right to vote in local elections in order to penalise all those who took advantage of the special status, not just civil servants, reported SCMP.

The proposals may be discussed at a coming meeting of the country's top legislative body, the National People's Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC), which starts next Wednesday, reported SCMP.

The diplomatic row between China and Britain over the passports first broke out after London announced last July that it would provide Hongkongers eligible for BN (O) status a pathway to citizenship. The move was in response to Beijing's imposition of a national security law last June, and London presented the new visa scheme as its way of keeping its promise to Hong Kong people under the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration.

According to memorandums of understanding agreed upon by both London and Beijing, all those with British Dependent Territories citizenship would cease to have it on July 1, 1997, the day of the handover. In its place, however, they would be entitled to "retain an appropriate status" enabling them to continue to use passports issued by the British government - and thus, the BN (O) arrangement was born.

However, the memorandums made explicit that BN (O) status did not confer upon its holders the right of abode in Britain.

So when British Home Secretary Priti Patel announced the new BN (O) visa policy in July, China was quick to accuse London of violating the agreement.

Full details of BN (O) are expected to be unveiled by January 31, when applications open. But according to an overview of the proposal last October, those with BN (O) status will be allowed to apply for a special class of visa - one that entitles them to choose between entering and remaining in Britain for an initial period of 30 months, extendable by a further 30 months, or for a single period of five years.

After the conclusion of the five-year visa period, those under the scheme will be entitled to the right of abode in Britain, and after another 12 months, they will be allowed to apply for full citizenship, according to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

Meanwhile, Beijing under the Basic Law is planning retaliatory measures against BN (O) holders who move to Britain.

Under the Basic Law, Hong Kong's top political figures, such as the chief executive, chief justice, principal ministers and advisers in the Executive Council - as well as the Legislative Council's chief and all lawmakers for geographical constituencies - must be permanent residents with no right of abode in any foreign nation.

Earlier, foreign passport holders were allowed in the civil service, including in the uniformed services, such as police, some of whom were foreign nationals who stayed on after the handover in 1997.

Analysts believed that if Beijing went ahead with plans to retaliate against Britain, all lawmakers, district councillors, top civil servants and other public officers would be required to give up their BN (O) passports, if they held one.

Beijing appeared to be harbouring growing distrust against the city's civil servants, especially after some took part in the anti-government protests sparked by the Hong Kong government's ill-fated extradition bill in 2019, said John Burns, University of Hong Kong emeritus professor.

"Civil servants holding foreign passports or BN (O) status brings up a question of loyalty. Are you loyal to China or not?" he added.

Burns said trying to restrict citizenship for public officers in Hong Kong could also open another can of worms: what to do about the British nationals who stayed on as police officers and in the government following the handover.

What's more, in the early 90s, the British government granted full citizenship to some 50,000 Hong Kong residents whom it deemed elites, and some of them were civil servants, he added.

Meanwhile, critics are puzzled over Beijing's proposal to target only BN (O) passport holders, as there are many others who hold foreign passports. As per them, how would Beijing decide the question of loyalty on them? (ANI)

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