Hong Kong is target of numerous campaigns to lure its citizens away

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Belize isn't the only nation trying to lure Hong Kong Chinese to become citizens. Since the 1982 announcement that China would rule Hong Kong starting in 1997, this British colony has been the target of numerous campaigns to attract citizens. Some Hong Kong Chinese fear Peking may fail to honor the guarantees of autonomy in its pact with Britain.

``If Hong Kong residents want to apply for passports elsewhere, they are free to do so,'' a Hong Kong government spokesman says.

Delegations from Barbados, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica have visited Hong Kong to make their pitch. So have groups from Nigeria, the Seychelles, and Mauritius. Other plans include the following:

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Costa Rica has offered residency rights in exchange for some $40,000. It promotes duty-free exports to the United States and duty-free importation of materials and equipment for potential manufacturers. Both Tonga and Paraguay have made similar appeals.

Taiwan's program to attract Hong Kong citizens is twofold: to attract Hong Kong's technology and capital, and to score a propaganda coup. The program has been only modestly successful, analysts say, because Taiwan is viewed here as an unsteady place to relocate.

Canada liberalized its immigration policies in January. It has had ``a rather extraordinary response in Hong Kong as a result,'' a diplomat says. Visa applications have jumped by almost 10,000.

Australia recently announced a program to allow increased immigration from those who can contribute to society and the economy. Before 1982, there was much interest in Australian passports among Hong Kong citizens, an Australian official says. ``It has trailed off since its peak before the agreement was signed and is now steady,'' the official says.

St. Maarten has offered passports to Hong Kong citizens for $100,000 and a commitment to invest at least $40,000 in a Caribbean condominium, a newspaper here reported. Hong Kong officials called this a scam.

``The main selling point is often the assumption that these nations are a stepping stone to the United States,'' a high government official here says. ``It's a racket, and there often appears to be some official connivance at the other end. We see this as an unsavory practice that we would like to stamp out.'' The practice is often to obtain the residency and then return to Hong Kong, having established the way out.

Lawrence Lai, Belize's new honorary consul here, says Belize's program is not restricted to Hong Kong residents, but it is primarily aimed at them. So far, Belize has sold no passports. He was cagey when asked who originated the scheme. ``I am not in a position to comment on that,'' Mr. Lai said.

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