Since October 4, the Chinese regime has been demanding the plans, lease agreements or sales contracts of consular properties in Hong Kong. Diplomats are concerned they will be exposed to espionage.
Control measures at foreign embassies and consulates have been increasing, and there is concern in the diplomatic community that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) could easily plant listening devices.
Following the 2019 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, the CCP has been increasing control on the island, with both its citizens and foreigners.
The CCP took control of Hong Kong in 1997, when the British government made succession conditional on respecting the island’s form of self-government, hence the phrase, “One country, two systems.”
To strengthen surveillance, the CCP has implemented a series of new provisions, such as the national security law, which adversely affect the island’s citizens.
This time the measures seem to have touched foreign diplomats. Kurt Tong, former U.S. consul general, said the island was less strict before these new provisions.
Tong said, “Before the 2019 and 2020 changes, the Chinese Foreign Ministry took a relaxed approach, avoiding the strict controls that were in place in mainland China.” This was so the foreign missions could function better and help China do business globally.
He added, “Now, the mentality seems to be that some foreign missions are not welcome.”
According to the Vienna Convention, which governs diplomatic relations, there is ambiguity whether the resident government can make such a request.
Article 24 of the convention stipulates, “The archives and documents of the mission shall be inviolable at any time and wherever they may be.” And inviolable means that the documents and archives must be secure from destruction, violence, infringement, or desecration.
According to the Financial Times, diplomats are considering how to respond to the the regime’s requests, fearing they will hand over their property to espionage.
The CCP is gradually limiting foreign missions
The CCP has slowly reaffirmed its “nonintervention” stance. In Hong Kong, the sale of a set of consular residences was stalled by new requirements for written permission for the transaction.
However, in August 2020, the authorities allowed the sales to go ahead, but through a public tender.
Former employee of the British Consulate, Simon Cheng, said that these demands are not new. In 2019 state security agents had asked him to draw the plans for the British Consulate.
Adding to this, Cheng recounts that in the same year, while visiting the neighboring city of Shenzhen, he was detained for 15 days on charges of having violated a public security law, Radio Free Asia reported.
He added that while in detention he was subjected to intense torture to get him to confess Britain’s role in the Hong Kong protests, about his own involvement and that of his friends.
Japanese diplomat detained in Beijing
On February 21, a Japanese diplomat was detained in Beijing after being involved in “inconsistent activities,” a term used by the Chinese regime to refer to espionage.
The diplomat was having lunch with a Chinese citizen at a hotel in the city when he was detained and interrogated for several hours by state security agents.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said the Japanese diplomat had engaged in activities “incompatible with his capacity in China.”
It added that he had been questioned in accordance with Chinese law. It also called on Japan to discipline its diplomats. But no further details were given.
However, the Vienna Convention is very clear and in Article 29 it states, “The person of a diplomatic agent shall be inviolable. He shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention.”
The relations of Chinese citizens with foreigners is seen as suspicious by the Chinese regime. And the authorities try to scare both locals and foreigners from such encounters.
The CCP has always been on the alert for the intrusion of “hostile foreign forces” into its territory. Thus, any foreigner who intends to live in China must first submit to CCP control and will always be seen as a possible foreign agent or spy.