How did the British government really see Macau residents holding Portuguese passports?

Jason CHAO
Oct 27, 2018 · 3 min read
The cover of file FCO 40/3154 — now declassified and held at the National Archives (File contents are subject to Crown copyright)

An article titled “Britain disgraceful pre-handover efforts to deny nationality”, which was published on 24 July 2018 in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), reported that the British had engaged with the Portuguese government in an attempt to deny Macau residents Portuguese citizenship on the eve of Portugal joining the European Communities (EC). This report created a misconception that Portugal stood firmly on the nationality issue despite British pressure. In light of a later file — FCO 40/3154 of 1990, I found that the British had followed the Portuguese nationality issue relentlessly at least up until the early 1990s.

  1. The British asked for the number of Portuguese passport holders residing in Macau. But it received different numbers from Macau and Lisboa respectively. So, the British did its own research to estimate the number of Macau residents holding Portuguese passports.

2. The British studied the Portuguese nationality law and the socio-economic situation in Macau in relation to the possibility of Macau residents acquiring Portuguese nationality in great detail.

3. For the concern over Macau residents getting EC nationality, the British finally decided that it would not be “sensible” to compare Macau to Hong Kong because of the following reasons. In contrary to SCMP’s report that Portugal was “adamant”, the documents suggested that the British was satisfied with the situation and chose not to pursue the issue.

3a. Portugal would not introduce an equivalent to “British Nationality (Hong Kong) Selection Scheme” which allowed 50,000 Hong Kong families to have full British citizenship.

3b. For the vast majority of ethnic Chinese in Macau, the threshold for naturalising to be Portuguese citizen is too high.

3c. “Unlikely to be a mass immigration of Chinese from Macau to Portugal … probably more Chinese of Macau origin in the UK and Holland than there are in Portugal”

4. It is interesting to note that one of the documents read “‘Macanese’ … this term exclusively for referring to assimilated Chinese, who are not pure Chinese nor pure Portuguese”. By today’s European standard, writing in this language would be unavoidably seen as racist.

Jason Chao’s Depository

The work and thoughts of Jason Chao

Jason CHAO

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postgraduate student, software developer and advocate of human rights / LGBT+ equality

Jason Chao’s Depository

The work and thoughts of Jason Chao

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