In the midst of the gloom engulfing Hong Kong comes a scintilla of light relief. It emanates from the alarm and indignation among the Quislings who are scrambling to jump aboard the newly-enhanced Election Committee.

While they have been busy flaunting their patriotic credentials in public, a great many of these super patriots have more quietly been making sure that they have an escape route out of Hong Kong should things turn nasty.

BNO passport
File photo: Jimmy Lam/United Social Press.

Now they are threatened with their duplicity being exposed, or worse, being barred from joining this – and possibly other – committees which offer both status and influence.

New rules for membership of the Election Committee state that not only potential members but also their spouses must reveal whether they hold foreign passports, including the British National (Overseas) passport.

As matters stand, the serried ranks of super patriots could adopt plausible deniability of conflicting loyalties by declaring their unflinching loyalty to the Motherland with the flourish of a SAR passport. What they did not say was whether their spouses were in possession of foreign nationality. And what they are even more careful not to admit was that – as spouses – they are also entitled to the right of abode overseas. This right applies to BNO holders and to all the other passports, such as Canadian and Australian, which are most favoured by Hongkongers.

I have banged on about this passport hypocrisy before in these columns and apologise for once again being so impolite as to point out how extraordinary it is that the overwhelming majority of Hong Kong’s elite find it necessary to secure the insurance policy of the right of abode overseas.

Carrie Lam
Chief Executive Carrie Lam meeting the press on June 22, 2021. File photo: GovHK, via video screenshot.

Moreover, this cant begins right at the top. Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive in Name Only (CENO), has (or at least had) an escape route by virtue of the fact both her husband and two sons hold British nationality. She herself was a British national up until 2007 when she relinquished her overseas citizenship, a requirement for senior office in the government. Her three predecessors in the top job all have family members with overseas passports, and have all sent their children overseas for education and have assets in foreign countries.

Lam is not alone in the current administration. Her newly-promoted number two John Lee,  the Chief Secretary for Administration, can claim British citizenship as both his wife and two children are UK citizens. Teresa Cheng, the justice minister, has a husband with a Canadian passport. 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, has a son and daughter safely tucked away in Australia who run an agency promoting emigration targeted at Chinese clients. Yet again, you can’t make this stuff up.

John Lee Teresa Cheng
Secretary for Security John Lee and Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng. Photo: via c.c.2.0.

Given Hong Kong’s history and the fact that most people in the SAR come from families forced to flee for political and economic reasons, it is not hard to understand why, deeply embedded in the local DNA, is a sense of insecurity and a determination to prepare for all contingencies.

What changed, and greatly alarmed the authorities, was that preparation, in the form of securing the right of overseas abode, had been largely confined to the families of the rich and powerful. When Britain suddenly opened the doors to BNO holders a whole new ball game emerged, giving literally hundreds of thousands of people the right to an escape route that was previously the preserve of the elite.

The CENO says that the new rules for the Election Committee are part of the process of screening out unpatriotic elements from participation in the political system.

Carrie Lam Erick Tsang Teresa Cheng Roy Tang election electoral overhaul
Chief Executive Carrie Lam (centre) and other government officials meet the press on April 13, 2021. Photo: GovHK.

It is not clear whether candidates will be barred by virtue of their spouses holding foreign passports but the greater fear is that their hypocrisy will be revealed for all to see.

Given the kind of people involved here, it seems likely that something will be worked out to spare them embarrassment but they should be aware that they are dealing with a system of government modelled by the Chinese Communist Party which never forgives, nor forgets. Their files will be marked and should the occasion arise for using this information, there can be little doubt that it will be used.

It had been assumed that becoming a Quisling was essentially a risk-free choice but, as it always does, reality sets in after the euphoria passes.

Readers are resolutely enjoined to refrain from smirking.

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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