China

Hong Kong Veterans 'Deserve Answer' Over UK Citizenship

From 1,500 Hong Kong-Chinese personnel who served alongside the military at British Forces Overseas Hong Kong, 159 were given a UK passport.

Veterans from Hong Kong are continuing their fight for UK citizenship, despite many having served "side by side" with British personnel.

Following the 1997 handover of Hong Kong, which saw the former British crown colony handed back to communist China, service members from the region saw their units disbanded.

A 'one country, two systems' principle was agreed in the treaty between Britain and China, allowing Hong Kong to operate with autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs.

Protestors in 2019 felt the agreement was being left behind through the proposal of an extradition law – their activism met with a new national security law imposed on Hong Kong by China.

It prompted the UK to offer visas to thousands within Hong Kong, however former members of British Forces Overseas Hong Kong are still campaigning for UK citizenship.

After 24 years away from the UK Armed Forces, some veterans are speaking about the campaign.

"Since I was a child, I wished to join the Army – to be a soldier," said James Lai, who entered the service in 1985 and spent 10 years working as a clerk.

After the handover to China cut his career short, repeated failure to become a citizen followed, while his civilian salary stood at half his military income.

James Lai speaks to Forces News in 2021.

Campaigners like Roger Ng, who served for 12 years in the Royal Army Medical Corps, believe there are about 300 veterans still fighting for British citizenship.

Mr Ng has been "nervous" and "scared" of what would happen if China discovered his military past.

The frustrated veteran believes holders of British National Overseas BN(O) citizenship, which Hong Kong nationals could apply for before 1997 and can now use alongside close family to obtain their visas, are being preferred to former personnel.

The veteran questioned the ability of young protestors "throwing stones" to access a life in the UK, while some former personnel struggle to gain such "recognition".

Meanwhile, Roger Ching, another Army veteran and a campaigner, fears being charged with "betraying the Chinese government or spying for the British Government" due to his past career.

The feeling remains within these groups that Hong Kong-Chinese nationals with a British military record have become particularly vulnerable as Beijing tightens its grip on democracy.

Roger Ng is campaigning for UK citizenship after 12 years with the Royal Army Medical Corps.

Peter Vorberg served in Hong Kong in the 1980s and has been campaigning for Hong Kong-Chinese service personnel to be granted the right to live in the UK for the last decade.

"Initially, the Government said that they weren't classed as veterans," he said.

"What they said is they were only local, hired people who didn't serve outside of Hong Kong and were therefore not classed as servicemen and soldiers and veterans," he added.

Mr Vorberg said this was far from the truth, adding many Hong Kong nationals served "side by side" with the British in a variety of locations, while also paying UK tax.

In a statement, a Home Office spokesperson said: "The Government remains extremely grateful to those who served in the Hong Kong Military Service Corps.

"We are giving careful consideration to representations made on behalf of those personnel who were unable to obtain citizenship through the selection scheme, but there are no plans to reopen applications for BN(O) status or expand the eligibility for the BN(O) route."

Lord Craig of Radley, former Chief of the Defence Staff from 1988 to 1991, is pressing the Government to do more.

He said: "Even if it's 'no' – it's an answer. What is really unsatisfactory is this continuous: 'We are actively considering it.'

"They've had six years of active consideration," Lord Craig continued, adding that the veteran group "deserves an answer".