China tells consulates in Hong Kong, Macau to use only one city in official title

Diplomats puzzled by request from Ministry of Foreign Affairs to use just the main base in the mission’s formal name

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 August, 2018, 12:01am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 August, 2018, 2:02pm

Beijing has asked foreign diplomatic missions which serve both Hong Kong and Macau from a single consulate to remove the name of the city which is not their main base from their official title.

But the reason for the policy change has yet to be explained.

The request, sent in a note to diplomatic corps in both special administrative regions from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was made “several months ago” and contained a list of countries in both cities to which it applied, according to a consular source in Macau.

The source described the list of countries affected as “not exhaustive, but extensive”, adding that it included consulates from European countries and elsewhere around the world.

The Canadian consulate confirmed it had received the note.

“Yes, we have received the request. We understand that all consulates in Hong Kong and Macau have received this request,” it said.

Consular corps have been left scratching their heads over what the rationale for the request might be. The note also set a deadline for the name change which the source said had passed, adding the request had caused a “degree of puzzlement” among diplomats in both cities.

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On Thursday night the Hong Kong missions of the United States and France were still described as serving “Hong Kong and Macau” in their official titles. Neither consulate, which the Post could not confirm were on the list compiled by the ministry, had responded to questions by publication time.

The Hong Kong-based European Union Office also confirmed the existence of the request but referred questions on details on the note and reasons for it to the foreign ministry in Beijing.

“Despite reports that might imply otherwise, the EU Office was not asked to change its name. As regards member states, these are bilateral matters on which the EU Office has no comments,” it said in a statement.

A spokesman for the Hong Kong government’s Protocol Division said: “As the subject relates to foreign affairs, you may wish to direct your inquiry to the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

Questions to the ministry in Beijing had not been answered by publication time.

Professor Lau Siu-kai, vice-chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, a semi-official think tank based in Beijing, said the request was not unreasonable.

“If a country wants to set up a consulate in a place in China, it has to apply to the Chinese government,” he said. “So, if it is approved that your consulate is to be set up in Macau, it is not appropriate for you to name it as being in Macau and Hong Kong. For example, you set up a consulate in Shenyang, you can’t name the consulate as being in Shenyang and Changchun just because you also serve the people in both cities.”

Hong Kong has 62 consulates general and 58 honorary consulates while Macau has four and eight respectively.

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In May, Beijing demanded international airlines change by July 25 the way they referred to Taiwan on their websites if it might imply the island was not part of China. Four US carriers – American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines – missed the deadline.

Three of the carriers had listed Taipei and other airports in Taiwan without any country next to the name of the city by July 25. Initially it seemed such a solution satisfied China’s demands, but it then emerged Beijing insisted on referring to Taipei as being located within China.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China later said the carriers’ efforts were “incomplete” and it would “pay close attention”. Hawaiian Airlines, which does not fly to Taiwan, does not list Taipei on its website.

Additional reporting by Ng Kang-chung