Radiant US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is ‘receptive’ to the idea of a visa waiver for Hong Kong passport holders, according to China Daily. Quotes in the Standard, on the other hand, are more doubtful.
Citizens of most developed countries can visit the US without a visa. Along with most European nations and Japan and Australia, the list includes such prosperous Asian states as South Korea, Singapore and even plucky little Brunei. Hong Kong is conspicuous by its absence.
As a Special Administrative Region of the PRC, the Big Lychee issues its own passports to the city’s Chinese citizens – most of the population. Most laid-back regimes see these as ‘developed economy’ documents and let the holders in without visas, confident that well-off Hongkongers will not have an incentive to stay on and work illegally. However, can a more paranoid country, which already has things like the Rapture to worry about, be totally sure?
How do they know only Hongkongers, and not well-connected Mainlanders, are being issued these passports? Since well-connected Mainlanders can arrange investment visas and residency anywhere they want these days, it’s probably not an issue, but it’s the sort of thing that creates nagging doubts. It’s the curse of ‘One Country Two Systems’.
Then there is the sensitive topic of Mainlanders who have lived in Hong Kong for seven years and become eligible for local passports. In her book Underground Front, Christine Loh describes how a fifth column of at least 80,000 cadres infiltrated Hong Kong from 1983 through the family reunion immigration system, essentially to pad out a possibly disloyal population. If any country is likely to be nervous about the prospect of dastardly secret Communist agents from Tin Shui Wai sneaking in as tourists, it will be the US.
Last but not least is a more prosaic problem. The overall influx of some half a million Mainlanders into Hong Kong in the last 15 years or so has boosted the poor and unskilled part of the population. Despite its impressively high per-capita GDP, Hong Kong has a poverty problem that the other Asian visa-waiver countries don’t have (Singapore imports Third World labour, but it doesn’t give them passports). While Hong Kong’s underclass are hardly an overstay risk to match, say, Filipinos, any prudent American official would at least weigh it up as a factor.
So Hongkongers are stuck with visas costing HK$1,120 plus a wait on the outdoor patio with no air-conditioning, which presumably goes some of the way toward explaining the attraction of things like Canadian passports and Phuket.