Hague Conference office not a gift for Hong Kong from Beijing, says official

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 December, 2012, 5:48am

The world's leading organisation on private law, the Hague Conference, has dismissed a mainland official's claim that its opening of an Asia-Pacific office in Hong Kong was a "gift" from Beijing.

Hans van Loon, secretary general of the Hague Conference on Private International Law, said the city was chosen purely for its judicial autonomy and separation of powers.

Its Hong Kong office opened last week. "I think we should stick to the fact that there has not been a bid or something like that," Van Loon said. "It has nothing to do with politics. It is simply a question of the reality here and making the best informed professional choice."

Huang Huikang, director general of the Foreign Ministry's Department of Treaty and Law, said last week that China had pulled out all diplomatic stops and lobbied to bring the legal body to the city.

He said it could be seen as "a gift" from Beijing to mark the 15th anniversary of the handover.

But Van Loon said: "We raised the issue because we felt the need for a presence [in the region]. It was the initiative of the Hague Conference."

The Hague Conference, of which China is one of 72 members, is the world's foremost organisation for cross-border co-operation in civil and commercial legal matters.

Van Loon also said Hong Kong did not beat Singapore in the selection of an Asian base because the city state was not a member. He said Hong Kong was chosen because it had "such an excellent reputation for good administration of justice and the superb quality of its judiciary".

"Last but not least is the 'one country, two systems' principle," Van Loon said.

"Hong Kong has a very impressive tradition of an autonomous and well-functioning legal system, legislature and administration, which are traditionally well separated," he said.

Among other benefits, the Hague Conventions remove red tape in recognising diplomas and birth certificates internationally.

Amelia Luk, of the Department of Justice, said Hong Kong also benefited from the convention on child abduction.

This allows states to join forces to stop a divorced parent from taking a child away from a member country without permission.