“It’s about social justice. You can’t buy something and then [have the things] taken away … so you’ve paid millions of dollars to use the club and then suddenly you need to pay millions more to use it.

“We are on Hong Kong soil. Why are Hong Kong people being treated differently by the club? They likewise contributed, paid and put good money in … life is about trust.”

The member was speaking after club president Christopher Burgess said in a letter to club members dated May 31, a copy of which has been seen by the Post, that the club was now wealthy enough to redeem their debentures at face value, estimated to be worth several tens of thousands of dollars.

“The club is now well capitalised and, considering our balance sheet and investment portfolio, the board, with the support from both the membership and finance committees, has decided to retire the debt by redeeming all individually held debentures,” Burgess wrote.

Members who are not Americans have to pay a membership fee of between HK$1.6 million and HK$2 million by buying a debenture.

“These debentures have traded on a secondary market since issuance and changed hands, sometimes up to 2-3 times. With each sale, a transfer fee was also paid which was received by the club,” the letter said.

The announcement may reduce the 500-strong group of non-American individual members who are non-voting.

They will have to top up their membership by up to HK$1.5 million or leave the club, which has premises in Central and a country club in Tai Tam.

Members have to submit their declarations of intention by August 31.

The American Club has asked local non-voting members to stump up more cash to retain club privileges. Photo: Handout

“In February 2024, the board developed a plan for further improvements to the club’s membership profile and to maintain the non-profit tax status, which requires 50 per cent or more of the club’s operating revenues to come from voting members,” Burgess said in the letter.

“The club’s intention is to also consolidate an important constituency within the membership fabric, being non-voting members.”

The club issued debentures at a variety of values as a medium-term debt tool to fund major development projects from 1985 to 2007.

Burgess emphasised the new change was “a more thoughtful process which does not treat a membership as an asset, but as a privilege and opportunity to join the club which has been built on the American values of culture, friendship and community.”

The letter said those who opted out, failed to declare an intention or to pay the first instalment of the top-up will have their debenture redeemed at face value and their club membership ended from September 1.

The non-American member added it was believed the new policy was designed to reduce the number of local members and raise more money to maintain the club’s non-profit tax status in the wake of an exodus of Americans from the city.

“I think the real intention behind this is that because Americans are leaving, the ratio for the American Club is skewed because they must maintain a certain ratio of more than 50 per cent,” the member said.

“So they’re trying to find ways to bring down the number of locals … and asking for more money.”

The American Club, founded in 1925, said in its mission statement that it is dedicated to being a premier spot for social, recreational and business activities for members and their families in a distinctively US atmosphere.

The club posted a surplus of HK$1.4 million in the 2022/23 financial year with membership income from debenture transfer and renomination fees at HK$27.1 million.

Its financial reserves totalled HK$606 million at the end of June last year.

Club membership stood at 2,909 – 52 per cent American, 19 per cent Hongkongers and 10 per cent British.

The Post has asked the club for comment.