Wed, 29 Nov 2023

HONG KONG: The Chinese Foreign Ministry has issued a request to all foreign consulates in Hong Kong, seeking the personal details of their locally employed staff, a move that underscores Beijing's tightening grip on the semi-autonomous region.

In a letter obtained by The Associated Press, the Commissioner's Office of the Foreign Ministry called on consulates to provide information such as staffers' names, job titles, residential addresses, identity card numbers, and travel document numbers. The request cited the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and general international practice as the basis for this data collection.

The letter, dated September 18, instructed consulates to comply with the request by October 18 and indicated that consulates must furnish details of future staff hires within 15 days. Whether China reciprocates by providing details of its staff in foreign missions to other countries remains unclear.

This request comes in the context of Beijing's increasing control over Hong Kong in recent years, particularly following the imposition of a far-reaching national security law aimed at quelling dissent. Western governments have criticized the law, characterizing it as dismantling Hong Kong's political freedoms and civil society. Conversely, Chinese and Hong Kong authorities argue that the law is essential to maintaining stability in a city that witnessed months of anti-government protests in 2019.

At the time of reporting, the U.S. and British consulates in Hong Kong and the Office of the European Union had yet to comment on China's request. Likewise, China's Foreign Ministry had not responded to inquiries about the letter.

A local consular staffer, speaking anonymously due to concerns of retaliation, disclosed that their manager had assured them that personal details would not be submitted without consent. There are apprehensions about how such information, if provided, would be utilized and whether it could impact the safety of their families and their immigration procedures.

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