The opening of a prestigious international legal body's overseas branch in Hong Kong today can be considered "a gift" from Beijing to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the end of colonial rule, a Foreign Ministry official said.
Huang Huikang, director general of the Foreign Ministry's Department of Treaty and Law, told a conference at City University yesterday that Beijing pulled out all diplomatic stops to make sure the Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH) chose to open an office in Hong Kong.
The HCCH is the world's foremost organisation for cross-border co-operation in civil and commercial legal matters. China is a member and representatives from Hong Kong take part in the Hague Conference as members of the China delegation.
Huang said the central government and the city worked together to bring the office to Hong Kong, HCCH's first in the Asia-Pacific region and its second outside the Netherlands.
Lobbying to bring the office to Hong Kong started in 2009 and the then-secretary for justice Wong Yan-lung told media in April that he had also lobbied for support for the office on visits late last year to Europe, South Korea and Japan.
Huang said the Hong Kong branch would benefit mainland China and Hong Kong's future as an international shipping, trading and financial centre.
"The SAR government had set up a strategic goal - making Hong Kong an international arbitration and law service centre in the Asia-Pacific, a goal that was fully supported by Beijing as it could upgrade Hong Kong's international reputation and indicate the success of 'one country, two systems'," he said.
Wang Hanling, a maritime expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Singapore challenged Hong Kong for the regional office of HCCH.
"Lack of a powerful diplomatic influence like that of China's is the key reason Singapore lost," he said.
Court of Appeal judge Mr Justice Michael Hartmann, a long-time member of the International Hague Network of Judges who retired in July, will become the office's first representative.