Macau (MNA) – Former Macau political figures have told Macau News Agency (MNA) that it would have been unlikely for the previous Portuguese administration of the city to have ceded to pressure from British authorities not to grant full nationality rights to local residents ahead of the handover to China, since the transmission of nationality through family ties was already rule of law in Portugal.
According to a report by South China Morning Post this Tuesday, declassified documents from 1985 show that the then British Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd, has requested the then British Foreign Secretary, Geoffrey Howe, to pressure the Portuguese administration not to grant full nationality to the city’s residents before the city’s handover to China over fears that Hong Kong residents would require the same treatment.
‘With Macau perhaps returning to the control of China at the same time as Hong Kong, it may well be that there will be many Macanese of Portuguese nationality who will decide that Europe rather than Macau is the place to be […]. Moreover, Hong Kong [British Dependant Territories Citizens] may try to obtain Portuguese passports by whatever means in order to gain a right of entry to the United Kingdom,’ Mr. Hurd is reported as having written.
The British home secretary was said to have refused to pass this request to the then Hong Kong Governor Edward Youde, over fears that British pressure over Portuguese administration would cause resentment in Hong Kong.
According to former Macau legislator Jorge Fão, Portuguese authorities had always had a “generous” policy when it came to nationality rights in regard to the residents of its colonies, with Mr. Fão citing miscegenation policies of the 16th century promoted by the Portuguese Governor of Goa, Alfonso de Albuquerque, according to which Portuguese soldiers were encourage to marry natives.
Fão noted that before 1981 Portuguese authorities applied the law of nationality following the principle of place of birth (jus solis) – which granted Portuguese nationality to anyone who was born in a territory under Portuguese administration – with the Carnation Revolution that overthrew the former Portuguese fascist regime in 1974 leading to a change in the nationality law therefore to family ties (jus sanguinis).
This law change has continued to allow any Macau resident born after 1981 to obtain Portuguese nationality if one of the parents had already acquired it prior to 1981, as well as enjoy the rights of European Union residents, regardless of the handover in 1999.
“Let’s not forget that there are currently some 110,000 Macau citizens who have Portuguese nationality, or almost a fifth of the population […].” Mr. Fão told MNA. “It was a hugely positive measure by the Portuguese administration, since at the time almost no one recognised the Macau SAR passport.”
On the other hand, upon the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, British authorities only granted full residency rights to 50,000 local residents and their families, with others being granted a British National Overseas passport, which does not grant residency rights.
“British authorities never intended to give full nationality to Hong Kong residents, they always perceived them as second rate citizens. British policies tended to be more xenophobic, you can see it on their policy to residents from their Indian colonies, which lost British nationality after independence,” he added.
To José Sales Marques, a former President of the Macau City Hall from 1993 to 2001, British pressure might have led to some Macau residents who deserved Portuguese nationality to not receive it but he claimed that, in general, local authorities at the time followed the new Portuguese nationality legislation.
“Portugal did what it should do. The nationality law changed in 1981 to jus sanguinis and it was applied correctly. Most of the Macanese community acquired a Portuguese passport through birth in Macau. Not applying the new law would have impacted on their rights. Portugal was always in favour of giving its passport to who deserved it, ” he argued.