China Crackdown on Dual Citizens Causes Concern

China's Ministry of Public Security has announced a new policy to encourage reporting people who obtain citizenship in another country, but still keep their Chinese citizenship. The move has led to a sharp debate about dual citizenship and the impact of the crackdown on Chinese who live abroad.

Recently, the Ministry published procedures for reporting those who hold foreign citizenship, but retain their Chinese identifications and benefits. Observers say the new policy is at least in part aimed at so-called "naked" officials, public servants who have family and assets overseas that could allow them to hide the gains of corruption. There are believed to be thousands of the so-called "naked" officials, but the exact figure is unknown.

Luo Bin, the president of Robinson Immigration Consultants in Canada, expressed support for the Chinese government's strict enforcement of single citizenship.

"With China's economy developing, to a certain extent there has been a series of problems such as economic corruption. The Chinese government now is fully aware of the seriousness of those problems," said Luo. "Through the strict implementation of single citizenship, I think they are doing right to prevent corrupt officials or criminals from fleeing abroad or transferring assets."

Corrupt officials who evade legal sanctions by transferring assets abroad, however, are in the minority. Most of those who could be affected are people who have taken citizenship abroad for work or family matters that are not connected to corruption issues.

Luo thinks tighter enforcement could cause a loss of financial benefits for those who lose their Chinese identity cards because of having citizenship overseas.

"There are many restrictions. For example, we are not allowed to buy houses. Besides, many Chinese retired after 20 or 30 years of work. So their concern is, once they obtain foreign citizenship, whether such accumulated pensions and other benefits in China will be reserved," said Luo.

In recent years, demands for dual citizenship have become louder. But Professor Tong Zhiwei, professor at the East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai, said the issue is complicated.

"On the one hand, dual citizenship is beneficial to individuals, namely, the many overseas Chinese who study and do business abroad. By keeping dual citizenship, they do not need to go through the whole visa application [process], and they can enjoy rights and benefits offered by both countries," said Tong.

He added, though, that the Chinese government has its own concerns about dual citizenship.

"For example, when a Chinese who holds an American passport commits a crime, or has confrontation with the Chinese government, in case he or she is detained or tried in China, the Chinese government will have to inform and work with the U.S. on his case. This is not only a cumbersome process, but also gives foreign countries excuses to interfere with China's internal affairs," said Tong.

Enacting legal dual citizenship does not appear to be a priority in the near term, so some are calling on Beijing to expand its "green card" program, which lets foreign citizens live and work inside China.

VOA News / Aug. 29, 2014 07:50 KST