China has asked foreign diplomats to provide floor plans of Hong Kong missions

China has demanded floor plans of all properties rented by foreign missions in Hong Kong, in a move diplomats believe reflects Beijing’s paranoia about overseas interference in the Asian financial hub’s turbulent politics.

The order has brought the city into line with the way China treats mainland embassies and consulates and raised fears in the diplomatic community that Beijing could use the information to install listening devices, according to three people familiar with the matter Persons.

China has claimed that foreign powers, particularly the US, were behind the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2019, one of the biggest challenges to Chinese rule on home soil since the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in 1989.

As a result of the unrest, the Chinese authorities enacted a sweeping national security law, prosecuted political opponents and severely curtailed civil liberties. They now appear to be imposing tighter restrictions on diplomats in the financial hub.

“Before the changes of 2019 and 2020, China’s foreign ministry typically took a minimalist approach and mostly avoided it [tight control of diplomats] on the mainland because their goal was to have foreign missions that could easily operate in Hong Kong to help China do business with the world,” said Kurt Tong, a former US consul general in Hong Kong and now a managing partner is with the Asia group.

“Now the mindset seems to be that some foreign missions are not welcome.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has asked diplomats in recent months for a number of details about the official premises of the missions abroad and the homes of employees, according to people familiar with the matter.

Officials want floor plans, details of lease or sale terms, and lease or purchase agreements. According to people familiar with the matter, the ministry has asked that new premises be screened before staff move into the building.

“Beijing clearly wants diplomats to feel uncomfortable,” said another former diplomat.

The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the international agreement that governs diplomacy, is vague about whether a foreign government can make such requests. However, Article 24 of the agreement states that the “documents of the mission shall be inviolable at all times”.

Diplomats said they are considering how to respond to the requests, adding that handing over floor plans is a particular problem as they expose their properties to spying. The Chinese Foreign Ministry in Hong Kong did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The filing came after China demanded that the US obtain approval before selling a row of apartment buildings in Hong Kong island’s upscale Shouson Hill to a local developer for HK$2.6 billion last year, making the transaction made difficult

Under the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, Hong Kong’s foreign affairs are administered by the mainland, but China has previously taken a more cautious approach. Diplomats said Beijing has slowly increased its oversight of foreign missions in recent years.

Video: Hong Kong’s future as Asia’s financial hub | FT movie China has asked foreign diplomats to provide floor plans of Hong Kong missions

Adam Bradshaw

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