Deng Zhuodi (邓卓棣), the 28-year-old grandson of late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, has just taken up a new position as Vice-Governor of Pingguo County in Baise City, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southern China. English-language reports from Bloomberg and the South China Morning Post give a little more detail, but leave out a crucial fact mentioned widely in Chinese-language reports from outside the mainland (such as those from the BBC’s Chinese service and from Taiwan’s NOW News) — Deng Zhuodi was born in the U.S. while his father Deng Zhifang was studying at the University of Rochester.
Chinese citizenship by jus sanguinis
Under the Nationality Law of the People’s Republic of China, Deng Zhuodi was a Chinese citizen at birth:
Article 5: Any person born abroad whose parents are both Chinese nationals or one of whose parents is a Chinese national shall have Chinese nationality. But a person whose parents are both Chinese nationals and have both settled abroad, or one of whose parents is a Chinese national and has settled abroad, and who has acquired foreign nationality at birth shall not have Chinese nationality.
The key point here is the definition of “settled abroad” — Chinese consulates normally interpret this to mean permanent residence status, such as a U.S. green card. Student visa holders generally are not considered “settled abroad”. (One Hong Kong judge appears to have endorsed the reasoning of the HKSAR Passport Appeals Board that even absent such status, ex parte Shah “ordinary residence” in a foreign country might also be considered “settled abroad”, but this has not been adopted even in other Hong Kong rulings, and such precedent would have no impact whatsoever on mainland China. I’ll refrain from straying too far from the topic of this post and going into a diatribe about the weirdness of a regional court using common law principles and references to British judgments to interpret a national law of China, a theoretically civil law system).
United States citizenship: easy to gain, hard to lose
However, as is well-known, anyone born in the U.S. also has citizenship of the United States at birth. And unlike the old situation under Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 § 350 — which provided that a dual citizen would automatically lose U.S. citizenship by residing for three years in the country of his other nationality after age 18 — under current law the conditions for loss of U.S. citizenship are much more narrow. Immigration and Nationality Act § 349(a)(4) (8 USC § 1481(a)(4)) states (emphasis mine):
(a) A person who is a national of the United States whether by birth or naturalization, shall lose his nationality by voluntarily performing any of the following acts with the intention of relinquishing United States nationality …
(4)(A) accepting, serving in, or performing the duties of any office, post, or employment under the government of a foreign state or a political subdivision thereof, after attaining the age of eighteen years if he has or acquires the nationality of such foreign state; or
(B) accepting, serving in, or performing the duties of any office, post, or employment under the government of a foreign state or a political subdivision thereof, after attaining the age of eighteen years for which office, post, or employment an oath, affirmation, or declaration of allegiance is required
Intention is of course the key factor, and under current regulations the U.S. State Department cannot infer loss-of-citizenship intent for a county vice-governor absent an in-person visit to a consulate and a bunch of form-filling. As the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual makes clear:
The presumption stated in 7 FAM 1222, paragraph a, found in 22 CFR 50.40, that a U.S. citizen/noncitizen national intends to retain U.S. nationality applies when he or she accepts nonpolicy level employment in the government of a foreign state. (See 7 FAM 1285 for a discussion on what constitutes a policy-level position which the Department now construes as meaning a head of a foreign state.)
If a consular officer becomes aware that a U.S. citizen/noncitizen national accepted a nonpolicy-level position in the government of a foreign state and the individual does not advise you that his or her intent was to relinquish U.S. nationality, the administrative presumption of intent to retain citizenship applies.
Chinese citizenship as an adult
That may be the end of the matter from the U.S. side, but from the Chinese side it is very different: dual citizenship is not permitted, and even officials who themselves have no foreign nationality but have family members abroad are facing increasing scrutiny. Deng lived in China when he was young and presumably had no trouble getting a hukou, but he later spent quite some time in the U.S., graduating from Duke University Law School, working at White & Case LLP, and being rumoured to have got into all sorts of other trouble under the name David Zhuo. If Deng applied to renew his Chinese passport during that time, the consulate should have requested proof that he was not a U.S. citizen, as they routinely do of ordinary Chinese citizens abroad whose old passports show no evidence of valid immigration status in the place where they live. Of course, given his lineage, they almost certainly did not do this.
Do we have evidence that Deng did or did not renounce his U.S. citizenship? For what it’s worth, there are only two people surnamed Deng recorded by the Federal Register as having given up U.S. citizenship since 1996, and none surnamed Zhuo. However, the Federal Register list of ex-citizens is known to be grossly incomplete — last year it published not even a thousand names when FBI statistics showed 4,650 renouncing citizenship, and after 2006 the names of numerous other public figures are also missing.
So unless Deng himself comes forward with a Certificate of Loss of Nationality, or the intrepid folks at Wikileaks get their hands on some more U.S. State Department diplomatic cables, it won’t be possible to answer the question of whether or not he is still a U.S. citizen. But if he is, then I hope he’s filing his FBARs — on both his personal accounts and the county government accounts — lest he get hit with an Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program fine of 13000%! Since I’m sure the IRS would never hold back from going after a U.S. citizen merely on the basis of who his grandfather was or the hilariously godawful mess it would cause in international relations.