Hypocrisy is a nasty business whichever way you look at it. Unsurprisingly it is on flagrant display among the honourable members of Hong Kong’s legislature as they scramble over each other to be the loudest to proclaim their undying patriotism and determination to root out the smallest deviations from the ‘right’ course.

Not only are the born again patriots as loyal as can be but as the new order of authoritarian rule settles into Hong Kong they are more than eager to go the extra mile to prove their unblemished patriotic credentials.

A government banner promoting the electoral overhaul, photographed outside the MacPherson Playground in Mong Kok. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The new terrain they have alighted upon to burnish these credentials has been to root out anyone in a position of power who has foreign citizenship or right of abode overseas. This is why they have been busying themselves over one aspect of what laughingly passes for discussion over the 765-page blockbuster set of bills needed to put the electoral reforms into effect.

The debate, such as it is, is light on proper scrutiny and heavy on flag-waving. Alice Mak, ever alert to the dangers of foreigners, has insisted that anyone seeking election must publicly declare that they do not hold a British National (Overseas) passport, or any other nationality or right of residency in a foreign country.

Alice Mak. File Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Paul Tse, as is his way these days, has gone a step further saying that those running for office are no longer entitled to privacy because it was now vital to “to attach greater importance to allegiance and national security.”

The problem here, and it is one that none of these hypocrites care to examine, is that practically all members of Hong Kong’s ruling class have a foreign escape route sitting in their back pockets. Sometimes it is exposed, as it was when Andrew Leung, Legco’s President, was forced to rapidly relinquish his British passport back in 2016. Most of his colleagues however are smart enough not to hold foreign passports themselves but to ensure that close family members have them, which – in turn – gives them the right of abode overseas.

Unsurprisingly, this hypocrisy starts at the top with Chief Executive Carrie Lam whose husband and sons carry British passports. She is not alone here as her predecessors were equally keen to secure an escape route. This includes the children of the first CE, Tung Chee-wah, who hold American nationality.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Director of the Liaison Office Luo Huining. Photo: GovHK.

And what about Tam Yiu-chung, the only Hong Kong member of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee and thus the most senior Hongkonger in China’s national decision making apparatus? He has two sons safely tucked away in Australia, one of whom (you can’t make this stuff up) advises people on immigration to his new homeland.

Other enablers for the new crackdown on civil liberties are in the same boat. The security secretary, John Lee can claim British citizenship as both his wife and two children are UK citizens. And justice secretary Teresa Cheng’s, husband has a Canadian passport.

In other examples, ex-chief executive Donald Tsang was so keen to gain a knighthood from Her Majesty the Queen that he clung onto his British passport up to the last minute before giving it up to climb the new red greasy pole to the top job. Ms Lam, did not go so far as to beg for a royal honour, but she too gratefully equipped herself with the Queen’s passport before rapidly turning it in as career advancement beckoned.

The Great Hall. Photo: Lukas Messmer/HKFP.

Yet here they are standing rigidly to attention and singing their hearts out as the first strains of national anthem blare through whichever loudspeakers happen to be in the proximity. They have become fluent in using the wooden language of the Communist Party’s leaders. They have brushed up their Mandarin (with varying levels of success) and will never miss a chance to polish their patriotic credentials whenever an opportunity occurs.

So, why on earth all this fuss over passports and overseas right of abode? The answer is obvious but the contortions involved are a sight to behold. Amnesia strikes those who once scrambled to have a foreign passport and then there’s the whole process of denial.

All of this begs the question of why, in the first place, foreign passports are so highly valued by Hong Kong’s elite.

Could it be that in their heart of hearts their confidence in the long life and invincibility of the Communist Party is not quite as certain as they would have us believe? Or could it, and it’s necessary to be generous in ascribing motives here, be that given a knowledge of China’s turbulent history, people with the means to do so, take out multiple forms of insurance.

What is most notable is that politicians in democratic countries rarely, if ever, have or have had foreign passports because they not only have sufficient confidence in their own systems of governance but are also reassured by the knowledge that governments can be changed in an entirely peaceful manner without threats to life and limb.


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Stephen Vines

Stephen Vines is a journalist, writer and broadcaster and ran companies in the food sector. He left Hong Kong with great reluctance in July 2021 following the crackdown on freedom of expression. Prior to departure he had been the host of the RTHK television current affairs programme ‘The Pulse’, a columnist for ‘Apple Daily’ and a contributor to other outlets. He continues to be a columnist for ‘HKFP’. Vines was the founding editor of 'Eastern Express' and founding publisher of 'Spike'. In London he was an editor at The Observer and in Asia has worked for international publications including, the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, BBC, Asia Times and The Independent and, during Hong Kong’s 2019/20 protests, for the Sunday Times. Vines is the author of several books, the latest being Defying the Dragon – Hong Kong and Worlds’ Biggest Dictatorship