Huawei Exec Arrest raises questions over Hong Kong travel docs

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The diplomatic storm centred on the detention of China telecom giant Huawei’s executive Ms Meng Wanzhou has prompted many to watch closely where the Sino-Canadian and Sino-U.S. relations will go. Locally, people are wondering why news reports say she was traveling with three Hong Kong passports.

U.S. documents have revealed that Ms Meng entered Canada, where she was detained, with a HKSAR passport. They also revealed that she has used three HKSAR passports and four issued by China to enter the U.S. over the last 11 years.

Eyebrows have been raised at how Ms Meng can hold that many passports over the period when they are typically valid for 10 years, and whether more than one is valid at a time.

Legally, a mainland Chinese citizen cannot hold both a Chinese and Hong Kong passport at the same time under the “one country, two systems” framework.

Before becoming a Hong Kong permanent resident and getting a HKSAR passport, a mainland Chinese has to renounce their Chinese ID, passport and hukou. Dual citizenship is not recognized by China under Article 3 of the Nationality Law.

The news that Hong Kong has issued multiple passports to Ms Meng in such a short time has raised questions about the Immigration Department’s enforcement of its own rules. Many argue it could tarnish the credibility of the HKSAR travel document if no clarification is provided.

Government to clear doubts

In a rare move, Chief Executive Ms Carrie Lam responded to the case on Tuesday morning, stressing that Ms Meng “only has one valid HKSAR passport at any time.”

“In so far as the issuance of passports to Ms Meng, all the procedures and arrangements are in law, in order, so she has been issued a few passports over a period since she has obtained the Hong Kong permanent resident status,” Ms Lam told reporters before the weekly Executive Council meeting on Tuesday.

She stressed that the government made the response to clear doubts. If the credibility of HKSAR passport is tainted in the global community, millions of residents will be affected when travelling abroad.

“I’m afraid those with an ill intention will use this case to cause damage to Hong Kong,” Ms Lam said.

“This political hype could prompt other countries to review their visa-free policy for [HKSAR passport holders]. This would be a big deal,” she added.

Ms Lam is the latest official to respond to Ms Meng’s possession of three HKSAR passports.

On Monday, Secretary for Security Mr John Lee also explained the possible reasons for one to hold multiple HKSAR passports at a press conference.

“The occasion when one may be using both old and new passports will be when the old passport contains a visa which remains valid, despite the cancellation of the old passport,” Mr Lee said.

“How the officers of that country will record the documents is really up to them, because he will have to follow the procedures as laid down by his own authorities,” he added.

Common practice

Mr Ronny Tong Ka-wah, member of the Executive Council and former legislator, said the government’s explanation is sufficient enough, and the credibility of the HKSAR passports should not be affected.

“There are cases where the travellers carry both passports if the old one contains a visa that is still valid,” he said.

Mr Tong also said it is possible that the issue reflects the public’s distrust for the current government, when the chief executive and her administration had to speak to the public on this individual case.

“But the public needs to know that this is a common practice,” he noted.

Canada’s detention of Ms Meng has become a high-profile case and received extensive global coverage when Sino-U.S. relations have gone to the lowest point.

Ms Meng is the daughter of Mr Ren Zhengfei, the billionaire founder of Huawei. She is also the CFO of the telecom giant.

On December 1, Ms Meng was taken into custody in Vancouver while she was changing planes. Accused of breaking sanctions to ink deals with Iran, she is now facing extradition from Canada to the U.S. on fraud charges.

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