Beijing to have greater say in VIP visits after handover

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 February, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 February, 1997, 12:00am

The Chinese Foreign Ministry is expected to take charge of official VIP visits to Hong Kong after the handover, according to diplomats.

Working from a building under construction in Mid-Levels, it will take over from local administrative officials the sensitive and prestigious task of organising trips for presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers.

But apart from this, the role of the Foreign Ministry office in Macdonnell Road is unclear, say observers.

'We have no real feel about what the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is going to do,' said a diplomatic source.

Hong Kong is a popular stopover for officials on their way to China or East Asia. Many are treated as unofficial or private visitors by the British administration to keep their visits low-key.

This means the local administration rarely has to consult London about the trips and private meetings can be arranged with the Governor or leading officials.

But Chinese central authorities want greater involvement in the visits after the handover, one source said.

'The Chinese are very punctilious about these matters. For a lot of these visits the Chinese look after them very correctly,' he said.

Such visits are arranged by the Protocol Division, part of the government policymaking body, the Secretariat.

Local officials are confident of the division's future despite the establishment of the Foreign Ministry office.

They have advertised for a Chinese-speaking director of protocol to replace former Royal Air Force officer Vivian Warrington, who retires on June 30.

The Basic Law gives the responsibility for foreign affairs and defence issues to central authorities rather than the Special Administrative Region.

The protocol office is expected to continue its day-to-day dealings with the consular corps, including administering privileges and immunities such as importing tax-free cars, alcohol and cigarettes.

Diplomats are worried their operations will be curtailed by Foreign Ministry cadres requiring contact with Hong Kong officials to be made through them.

They also fear local consulate staff and domestic workers will be appointed through the ministry, so employees could be directed to spy on diplomats on behalf of their Chinese masters.