Discussing politics normal, British consul says amid US row

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 December, 2011, 12:00am


The British consul general has weighed into a row between China and the United States over the work of diplomats in Hong Kong, saying his staff discuss 'political and economic issues' as part of their duties.

'We are strong supporters of the principle of 'one country, two systems',' British consul general Andrew Seaton said yesterday.

'In order to understand how that is working in practice, staff at the British consulate general meet people representing the broadest possible range of opinion in Hong Kong and discuss with them a wide range of political and economic issues.'

A spokesman for Seaton added: 'This helps us to understand Hong Kong and to promote and protect our interests here. The work carried out by our staff is fully in keeping with ... consular law and practice.'

The comments came after the Foreign Ministry commissioner in Hong Kong, Lu Xinhua, said he had repeatedly asked US consul general Stephen Young and other US diplomats not to make critical comments about the city's internal affairs.

'It would be inappropriate for foreign consulates to comment on any issue concerning Hong Kong's elections. This is what we strongly oppose,' Lu said yesterday. The ministry's Hong Kong office yesterday issued the third warning in three months to US diplomats to stay out of Hong Kong affairs. It was prompted by last week's remarks by Young about the upcoming chief executive election and vote-rigging allegations in the wake of last month's district council polls.

The office expressed 'concerns and dissatisfaction' over the US diplomats' 'meddlesome remarks' on the city's political development and urged them to refrain from further comments of that nature, a spokesman for the office said yesterday.

He also accused the US of contravening the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which forbids diplomats from interfering in the internal affairs of host states.

Chinese diplomats would not comment on next year's presidential election in the United States, he said.

Young told media in Hong Kong last week that the US government has closely followed the chief executive race, but stopped short of commenting on any candidates.

He also expressed concern over vote-rigging allegations in the district council polls and praised the swift action of the Independent Commission Against Corruption in investigating the claims.

The war of words between China and the United States over the work of the US consulate in Hong Kong was sparked in late September when whistleblower website WikiLeaks released 960 cables to Washington from US diplomats in the city.

The Foreign Ministry spokesman said yesterday that the office had expressed concerns to US officials over Young's comments.

But a spokeswoman for the US consulate general said yesterday it stands by Young's comments.

'We categorically reject any assertion that the behaviour of US diplomatic and consular staff in Hong Kong has been anything other than appropriate and in keeping with long-standing diplomatic and consular law and practice,' she said.