Beijing has tightened its visa policy for officials from consulates and global institutions stationed in Hong Kong since the Nobel peace prize ceremony for jailed mainland dissident Liu Xiaobo.
Some foreign officials have claimed the change is a deliberate attempt to make travel to the mainland more difficult following their organisations' support for Liu's award.
Before December 10 last year - the day the Noble prize was awarded to jailed dissident Liu - consular officials and staff of international organisations could travel freely to the mainland in a private capacity. They could apply for a visa in the same way as ordinary passport holders. Only if they were going to the mainland in a work capacity did they need official permission. But now, official notice is required, regardless of whether the visit is private or for work.
'Since the Nobel prize was presented to Liu Xiaobo in December there's been a definite hardening of China's stance in relation to certain international organisations. The visa change was pretty blatant,' one foreign official said.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry would not comment on the visa policy change, but it can be found on the ministry's Hong Kong's website.
Here it states that officials of foreign governments or members of consular missions in Hong Kong, and staff of the United Nations or other international organisations 'who wish to travel to mainland China for official or private purpose' must submit a note from their governments, diplomatic missions or their employing organisations along with their applications.
Primary contents of the note should include the applicant's full name, title or occupation, the employing department, passport type and number, purpose of journey, and entry and departure dates.
There are 58 consulates general, 62 consulates and five internationally recognised bodies in Hong Kong - the European Union; the Bank for International Settlements; the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the International Finance Corporation; the International Monetary Fund; and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
The change in China visa policy affects hundreds of staff working for these organisations.
Three officials from some of these organisations told the South China Morning Post they had verified that consulates and internationally recognised bodies in the city had been affected by the changes.
A staff member of one of the international organisations said: 'It was common knowledge that the visa change was due to the support given to Liu.' Another person said the unexpected spread of 'jasmine revolutions' in the Middle East this year 'only exacerbated China's worries'.
China reacted furiously to Liu's Nobel prize and waged an angry campaign to pressure countries to boycott the prize-giving ceremony.
On the eve of the award, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said more than 100 countries and groups would stay away from the event in Oslo, but the Norwegian Nobel Committee said only 19 states, including China, missed the ceremony.
Companies that provide China visa services in Hong Kong said the mainland had been gradually toughening visa measures for some time, not just because of Liu's award.
Raymond Wong, from Bona Fides Consultancy, said tourists were once able to 'apply for China visas quite easily before but now they are rejected for reasons like 'you've applied too many times''.
One Hong Kong tourist agency said the Chinese authorities had been 'tightening [visa regulations] since the Beijing Olympics, but it's getting even more difficult since the troubles in Egypt'.
The figures differ
Beijing said 100 nations and groups would shun the Nobel ceremony. In Norway, the number was put at: 19