By Oiwan Lam
On March 21, 2018, the Shanghai Public Security Bureau announced a new policy banning dual citizenship.
The Shanghai Permanent Residency Management Rule, which requires mainland Chinese who acquired foreign nationality or took up residence in other countries to either cancel their resident registration or face the consequences of the hukou system, which becomes effective on May 1, 2018.
The hukou, or household registration system, goes hand in hand with certain rights, especially for residents of big cities, who can enjoy freedoms like electing their district representative, holding a bank account, purchasing local property at a lower rate, and accessing education and retirement pension. Many mainland Chinese who have bought property and migrated to other countries have not cancelled their hukou.
While the parameters of the policy are not yet clear, it appears that for those who fail to cancel their hukou, power reverts to the police, who would do a mandatory cancellation.
According to the Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece Global Times, the new rule is to assist government’s anti-graft campaign as it would create another barrier blocking corrupt officials from leaving China.
But, as @FightEagle2017 pointed out on Twitter, the policy implication is a big deal for overseas Chinese:
— 小旋风 (@FightEagle2017) March 23, 2018
[Mandatory cancellation of Chinese hukou] Recently Shanghai has become the first to announce the mandatory cancellation of household registration targeting overseas mainland Chinese. The policy would be implemented in other regions as well. Majority of [the dual citizenship holders] have properties and bank deposits inside China. They kept their Chinese ID card for their accounts. Once their hukou is cancelled, they can’t use their ID card. It is very difficult to hold property and bank accounts with foreign passports or green cards. Moreover, how could they keep their properties legally is another question.
People have been sharing their diverse opinions on Weibo, one of the most popular social media platforms in China. For those who support the policy, they regard dual citizenship as the equivalent of wanting to have your cake and eat it too:
Those against the policy, meanwhile, are pointing out the difference between citizenship and nationality:
The news has shaken overseas mainland Chinese communities, as the cancellation of hukou may imply that they might not be able to receive their retirement pension or sell properties they own. Many are also concerned that other big cities will follow in Shanghai’s footsteps and ban dual citizenship.
Amidst this panic, the Shanghai public security department explained that the details of the policy have not yet been decided upon, since the authority is yet to provide a clear definition of what “taking residence in other countries” means. At this stage, those who live overseas but have not changed their nationality or acquired dual citizenship, appear to be exempt.
Still, the clarification is too vague and has failed to address people’s concerns. @dd201704 mocked the tone of the policy change:
— 点点 (@dd201704) March 25, 2018
Shanghai’s property prices were about to drop? The policy has been retracted… false alarm? The policy can change all of a sudden, today it is made public and people are in shock, then it’s withdrawn. What will come next? Who will still dare to keep property in China? Many of my friends are planning to sell their property and withdraw money from the bank… just in case another round of land seizure [similar to the 1950 land reform] might happen.
There is also much speculation over the rationale behind the policy:
— 草祭 (@caojitw) March 22, 2018
The policy concerning the cancellation of hukou would be a hard blow to those who get double benefit from their dual citizenship. However, the real intention is to make it more difficult for those who want to move their whole family and all their assets outside of China. If you decide to have your family migrate to another country, you have to cancel your hukou, and your property and bank accounts would have to be transferred to your extended family members to be taken care of. This will induce risk and it means that in the future, people will use the strategy of chain migration, leaving the country one by one instead of the whole family together.
This article first appeared on Global Voices on March 28.