Hong Kongers fleeing China’s crackdown denied pension savings | Human Rights


Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — When Ivan Chan moved to the UK along with his spouse and two youngsters in 2021 to flee China’s crackdown on Hong Kong, he knew it could imply forsaking nearly $90,000 in retirement financial savings.

Beneath the foundations of Hong Kong’s obligatory pension scheme, Chan, 40, would usually be entitled to withdraw his financial savings early as somebody who has completely departed the town.

As a substitute, Chan has been locked out of his pension as authorities within the former British colony refuse to recognise the British Nationwide (Abroad) — or BNO — passport that he used to to migrate as a legitimate type of ID.

“If we couldn’t get that cash, it could be troublesome for our monetary planning,” Chan, a former civil servant who now works in a grocery store in London, advised Al Jazeera.

“In fact our retirement life will change.”

“They don’t like individuals shifting out of Hong Kong and they’ll do no matter … to punish them,” Chan mentioned.

HSBC has been accused of abetting China’s crackdown on Hong Kong [File: Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

Chan’s case isn’t distinctive.

Hong Kong Watch, a UK-based activist group, final month estimated that Hong Kongers within the UK had been denied entry to over $2.8bn in pension financial savings.

Greater than 144,000 Hong Kongers have moved to the UK because it started providing BNO passport holders work and residency rights in response to Beijing’s imposition of a sweeping nationwide safety regulation on Hong Kong in 2020, following pro-democracy mass protests that turned violent.

Beneath the regulation, Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms, which as soon as set the territory other than the Chinese language mainland, have drastically declined regardless of a “one nation, two methods” association that was supposed to ensure the town’s lifestyle for not less than 50 years after the handover from British rule.

Hong Kong authorities have successfully worn out all political opposition by arresting or disqualifying most of the city’s pro-democracy legislators, shutting down important media shops, and all however outlawing criticism of the Chinese language Communist Get together (CCP). Beijing and Hong Kong officers have hailed the laws for restoring peace and stability to the Asian monetary hub.

After the UK introduced its visa plan, China mentioned it could not recognise BNO passports, accusing London of meddling in its inside affairs.

Since Beijing’s announcement, Hong Kong’s Necessary Provident Fund (MPF) Authority, which regulates the pension scheme, has instructed banks that handle contributors’ financial savings to not settle for using BNO passports for early withdrawal purposes.

Whereas authorities have denied any political motive for the modifications to the pension guidelines, affected Hong Kongers have little doubt they’re being punished for defying the CCP.

“I feel this can be a type of punishment they usually deal with the Hong Kong-born individuals as slaves,” a 47-year-old Hong Kong emigre who fled the town in 2021 advised Al Jazeera, asking to stay nameless.

He mentioned he has been denied entry to about $100,000 in retirement financial savings.

“It simply made my transition a lot tougher. In fact it’s an additional burden to me,” he mentioned.

Beneath the present guidelines, Hong Kongers who’re presently unable to entry their pension ought to have the option to take action after they both attain retirement age or purchase a brand new passport by UK citizenship.

However some Hong Kongers are fearful that the Chinese language authorities will merely change the foundations once more to make sure they can not get what’s rightfully theirs.

“I don’t have any hope to get it from the Hong Kong authorities or the Chinese language authorities,” mentioned the Hong Konger emigre who requested to stay nameless.

“Actually it’s gone,” he mentioned.

HSBC logo on its building in Hong Kong, China.
HSBC has been accused of abetting China’s crackdown on Hong Kong [File: Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

The state of affairs has additionally prompted scrutiny of the position of the banks that handle Hong Kongers’ pensions, together with London-headquartered HSBC.

Sam Goodman, director of coverage and advocacy at Hong Kong Watch, mentioned HSBC was complicit in a “brazen asset seize” by Beijing that’s supposed to warn Hong Kongers in opposition to leaving.

“HSBC isn’t satisfying its tasks as a trustee of the Necessary Provident Fund,” Goodman advised Al Jazeera.

“It should clarify to its clients why it’s blocking entry to their hard-earned financial savings and the UK Authorities should ask why a London-headquartered financial institution is doing the bidding of an authoritarian authorities by failing to recognise a legitimate government-issued doc.”

An HSBC spokesperson mentioned the financial institution was obligated to observe the regulation and regulator’s directions in all jurisdictions through which it operates.

“Within the case of everlasting departure, scheme members are required to supply proof of the fitting of abode exterior of Hong Kong,” the spokesperson mentioned. “The regulator has publicly confirmed {that a} BN(O) passport can’t be used as such proof.”

A spokesperson for Manulife, which additionally manages MPF funds, mentioned the financial institution has been following trade practices and regulatory necessities.

Different banks that handle MPF funds, together with Commonplace Chartered, China Life and ING, didn’t reply to requests for remark.

A spokesperson for the Necessary Provident Fund Authority rejected solutions that Hong Kongers have been being punished for shifting to the UK.

“MPF scheme members who’ve moved to overseas international locations will not be forbidden to withdraw their MPF so long as the withdrawal standards are fulfilled, and we strongly condemn the false allegation that Hong Kong persons are punished for emigrating,” the spokesperson advised Al Jazeera.

“Such [a] baseless declare isn’t solely deceptive, but in addition undermining the credibility of the MPF System.”

For Hong Kongers like Chan, such explanations ring hole.

Chan, who mentioned his youngsters’s schooling was the largest issue behind the choice to to migrate, plans to use to withdraw his pension when he acquires UK citizenship, though he isn’t optimistic that he’ll ever get his cash.

“The cash is ours,” he mentioned. “Allow us to freely handle our cash.”

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