China asks consulates in Hong Kong for local staff details

Commercial and residential buildings are pictured in Hong Kong. (Photo by ISAAC LAWRENCE / AFP)

HONG KONG, Sept 19, 2023 (AFP) – China has given foreign consulates in Hong Kong a month to submit their local staffers’ names, home addresses and job descriptions, according to diplomatic sources and documents seen by AFP on Tuesday.

The documents include a letter in English and Chinese dated Monday from Beijing’s Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (OCMFA), as well as two forms for consulates to fill in with their local staff’s details.

China has ratcheted up control of the semi-autonomous city in recent years and imposed a sweeping national security law in 2020 in the aftermath of a huge, sometimes violent pro-democracy protest movement.

Two diplomatic sources confirmed their consulates had received the documents and told AFP that it was the first time local staff members’ personal details had been requested.

“We are still assessing the document and will look into it,” one source said.

The other source confirmed they had received the documents.

“It is the first time we have this kind of request,” the source said.

A representative for the EU office for Hong Kong and Macau said they were “looking carefully into the matter” and declined further comment.

AFP has contacted the OCMFA for comment as well as the Hong Kong government’s Protocol Division, which handles consular affairs and official visits to the city.

The letter gave consulates until October 18 to “return the completed forms to the Protocol Division”.

It also asks all consulates in Hong Kong to “provide information on all staff locally engaged…(including) both permanent residents… and non-permanent residents”.

One form, titled “Notification of Staff Locally Engaged”, requires consulates to provide information on staffers’ names, positions, residential addresses and identity document numbers.

The other form asks consulates to notify the authorities of any termination of employment status.

Meanwhile Hong Kong on Tuesday faced further accusations that it had denied consular access to jailed pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai, who held a British passport.

In its latest six-monthly report on Hong Kong, the British government said Hong Kong officials “do not recognise dual nationality, and therefore do not recognise (Lai’s) British nationality”.

Lai has been behind bars since 2020 as he awaits trial for foreign collusion charges under a Beijing-imposed national security law.