Proposals give Tung role in conferring diplomatic privileges

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 November, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 November, 1999, 12:00am

Tung Chee-hwa will be given a role in conferring privileges on diplomats in Hong Kong under new proposals gazetted yesterday.

The Consular Relations Bill seeks to fill a possible loophole in the existing ordinance created by the return to Chinese rule.

While consular relations are a foreign affairs issue - and so the responsibility of the central Government - officials said the proposals only involved technical changes.

The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations is the agreement that codifies consular relations, privileges and immunities.

As in other common law jurisdictions, rights or obligations arising from international agreements do not automatically have legal force in Hong Kong.

They must be transformed into local legislation.

However, this practice contrasts with the legal system in the rest of China where international agreements become part of the law after they are signed or approved by the National People's Congress.

China acceded to the Vienna convention in 1979.

But possible problems could arise if China concluded with another state some additional privileges and immunities for specific consular posts.

Under existing law, it would be very difficult to recognise the provisions of the agreement.

Consular agreements between China and the United States, and Canada and the United Kingdom involve some additional privileges and immunities.

As an interim measure, Hong Kong resorts to Annexe III of the Basic Law to confer such privileges and immunities. The annex states national laws concerning diplomatic privileges and immunities shall be applied in Hong Kong.

Assistant Director of Administration Apollonia Liu said last night it was not a good option and some legal issues might arise.

The new bill, she said, empowered Mr Tung to declare by order those additional privileges.

'The Chief Executive is not conferring any diplomatic privileges. He only gives those privileges legal effect,' she said.

The bill also seeks to remove some obsolete sections from the existing ordinance, such as the merchant shipping aspects in consular agreements between Britain and other countries.

The provisions on privileges and immunities of official representatives of Commonwealth countries are also to be repealed.

The bill is expected to be tabled in the Legislative Council for first reading on December 8.