China warns foreign diplomats in Hong Kong to ‘stay away’ from Occupy Central
Consulates are advised to keep their nationals away from 'illegal' assemblies
Diplomats in Hong Kong have spoken of their shock at receiving a letter from the Chinese foreign ministry instructing them to avoid the ongoing pro-democracy protests that have swept the city.
The letter, sent from the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on September 28, was addressed to all foreign consulates in Hong Kong. It was first reported by the website Harbour Times and confirmed by the South China Morning Post.
“At present, some radical groups in Hong Kong are staging illegal activities of assembly and "Occupy Central", some acts of violence and legal offenses have occurred as a result,” the letter read. “The Hong Kong Police is dealing with them in accordance with the law.”
“To ensure the safety of all consular personnel and foreign nationals living in Hong Kong, we hope all Consulates-General in Hong Kong will strictly abide by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and relevant local laws and regulations of Hong Kong, restrain the behaviors of its consular staffs, and advise its nationals living in Hong Kong to stay away from the sites of assembly and "Occupy Central", so as to avoid violating the law and affecting their own safety and interests.”
Article 55 of the Vienna Convention says it is “the duty of all persons enjoying [consular] privileges and immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State. They also have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of the State.”
However, consular staff are also granted certain rights by the host state. Article 34 guarantees that “subject to laws and regulations [prohibiting entry] for reasons of national security, the receiving State shall ensure freedom of movement and travel in its territory to all members of the consular post.”
A diplomat from a Western European country who spoke to the Post on condition of anonymity said they thought the wording of the letter was inappropriate.
“Many of my colleagues were very surprised to receive such a letter,” the diplomat said.
Officials at the US and Russian consulates confirmed that they had also received the letter, but did not comment further.
It is unclear whether any consulates in the city have passed on Beijing’s instructions to their staff. A number of Western countries have issued travel warnings for Hong Kong since Occupy Central started, including the UK, US, Australia, and Italy, all of which encouraged their citizens to steer clear of protest zones.
The Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent after office hours on Tuesday.
Additional reporting by Benjamin Robertson