Request to change names of Hong Kong, Macau consulates ‘common sense’, China’s foreign ministry says

Spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs says move to use just the name of the main base in missions’ formal titles will not affect their ability to discharge their duties

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 August, 2018, 9:21pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 August, 2018, 12:48am

China has described its call for foreign diplomatic missions in Hong Kong and Macau to remove the name of the city that is not their main operating base from their official title as “common sense”.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also said the request “does not affect” the ability of any consulate in either special administrative region from “discharging its duties” under international agreements.

The intervention by Beijing comes as it emerged that the ministry’s request – contained in a note delivered to all diplomatic missions in both cities – referred to articles in the Vienna Convention, an international treaty to which China is a party and which governs diplomatic relations between nation states.

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It has also prompted experts to speculate that the move could form part of a strategy by China to boost the diplomatic profile of Macau, which Beijing considers a key bridge linking it to the Portuguese-speaking world, an important nexus to developing nations in which China exerts a growing influence.

Responding to questions from the South China Morning Post, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: “In line with international conventions and agreements on consular services, a consular organisation should be named after its resident city.

It could be that Beijing wants to clearly define consular roles and conduct more of its activity actually in Macau
Wilson Chan, lecturer

“This does not affect the consular organisation from discharging its duties in its consular district according to those agreements. The name and the consular district of a consular organisations are two separate matters, this is a matter of common sense. It’s obligatory on every consular organisation to abide by the agreements.”

Several consulates in Hong Kong and Macau have confirmed they had received the request from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, among them the Australian, French and Canadian diplomatic missions. All the consulates contacted by the Post said they were either “considering” or “processing” the request.

At the French consulate in Hong Kong, it is understood that the matter is being dealt with by the consul general, Eric Berti, in tandem with consulate’s political section.

None of the diplomatic missions that refer to Hong Kong and Macau in their formal titles had changed their websites before publication time.

A diplomatic source told the Post: “The note from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs included references to the Vienna Convention; it may have been Article 12 of the convention if my recollection is correct.”

Article 12 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and Optional Protocols says: “The sending state may not, without prior express consent of the receiving state, establish offices forming part of the mission in localities other than those in which the mission itself is established.”

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Wilson Chan Wai-shun, lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, whose research has included the external relations of the European Union and China-Europe relations, said: “Immediately after the handover, Hong Kong was very much the place where overseas missions based themselves, many of them also taking care of Macau matters from Hong Kong.

“However, as Macau has grown in prominence it is seen by Beijing as a bridge between China and the Portuguese-speaking world and on to the wider body of developing nations. It could be that Beijing wants to clearly define consular roles and conduct more of its activity actually in Macau.”

Additional reporting by Evanna Gurung