Hong Kong thriving as Asia's hot spot for diplomacy
City boosts reputation as hub for international communication and as a gateway to mainland with opening of 12 consulates since handover
Growing diplomatic activity in Hong Kong has made it one of the most cosmopolitan centres in the world.
Figures obtained by the Sunday Morning Post show that 12 fully fledged overseas consulates have opened in the city since China regained sovereignty from Britain in 1997.
A further 29 countries have posted part-time or honorary consuls to the city over the same period in a bid to boost their profile in China and the region.
Hong Kong - which proclaims itself as Asia's world city - now hosts 122 consular offices, up from 95 at the handover.
Diplomatic sources say the rise reflects Beijing's willingness to embrace Hong Kong's historic role as an international meeting place and help cement the "one country, two systems'' principle.
More countries are represented in New York, site of the United Nations headquarters, and Geneva, which hosts the UN's second-largest office and the World Trade Organisation headquarters, because of their roles as international centres.
But Hong Kong's unique role as a non-state and a conduit for trade and foreign relations both internally and with the mainland mark it out as a diplomatic hot spot in Asia.
The government's protocol division deals with the day-to-day business of diplomacy in the city, but it is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which makes the key decisions about foreign representation in the city.
A spokesman for the ministry did not respond to questions from the Post.
Tam Yiu-chung, chairman of the Legislative Council's panel on constitutional affairs, said the city played a distinctive role in international diplomacy. "It is very useful for a country to have offices here because Hong Kong is a part of China and it is a bridge for other countries to have contact with China," he said yesterday.
"It is also an international city and there are a lot of businesses here." Many Hong Kong consular staff may have links with offices in Beijing, Tam said.
This allowed for smoother communication between mainland officials and foreign representatives based in the city.
Tam said this model was very useful for export and trade matters and for improving business relations between China and other countries.
Britain was one of the first to open a diplomatic post in the city after the handover, with North Korea and a raft of African nations also opening consular offices here.
The newest consulates to open include Micronesia, which opened an office last year headed by an honorary consul, as well as Eritrea and Zimbabwe.
Since 1997, 11 consulates have closed, including those of Liberia, Ukraine, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Bhutan.
One of the most recent to shut was Denmark's, which closed in July. The reasons for the closures were not disclosed.
Consular officials from several of the biggest consulates, such as those of Canada, Australia and the United States, said staff numbers had remained stable since 1997.