After nine months of delay Hong Kong has quietly enacted regulations that implement last year's United Nations sanctions against Iran.
The city's action comes amid increasing scrutiny from the West over China's dealings with Iran.
The new regulations went into effect late on Friday afternoon. They update Hong Kong's existing sanctions against Iran 'to implement decisions' of the Security Council's fourth round of sanctions, which were passed with the support of China on June 9 last year.
Soon after passage of the UN resolution, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing instructed the Hong Kong government to implement the resolution fully, according to a memo submitted to Legco last week.
The administration said it took nine months to implement Beijing's directive because the UN resolution 'covers a number of new prohibitions and strengthened measures that are not commonly found in previous UNSC decisions.'
In January, the United States blacklisted 20 shipping companies in Hong Kong for operating as fronts for the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, which was censured by the UN in 2008 for aiding Iran's nuclear and military programmes.
A South China Morning Post investigation found that the companies were created at the IRISL's request, in an effort to mask the identity of its fleet in the wake of UN censure and unilateral sanctions. It is not clear whether the new legislation will have an impact on IRISL's operations in Hong Kong.
Last week, Colombian UN ambassador Nestor Osorio, who chairs the Security Council's Iran sanctions committee, told the council that the committee was investigating new attempts by Iran to import banned goods from China and North Korea. A shipment of phosphor bronze, a commodity banned by the sanctions, was seized in South Korea from a Chinese company, a Security Council diplomat told Reuters.
Malaysia has also announced an investigation into whether equipment found in two containers headed for Tehran from China could be used to make nuclear weapons.
Beijing has faced increasing scrutiny in the West over its relationship with Iran. Earlier this month, a bipartisan slate of US senators pressed the Obama administration over its policy on Sino-Iran relations.
'We cannot afford to create the impression that China will be given free rein to conduct economic activity in Iran when more responsible nations have chosen to follow the course we have asked of them,' the senators said in a letter to the White House. After the EU, China is Iran's second-largest trading partner.
At last week's Security Council meeting, Chinese ambassador Li Baodong said Iran was entitled to peaceful use of nuclear energy, and emphasised that negotiation and dialogue was the best approach.