US consul given a freer hand in dealings with HK officials

The US consul general in Hong Kong and Macau is no longer required to secure China's permission before meeting officials in Hong Kong, after a rule put in place during heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing was relaxed.

Instead, the US top diplomat need only "notify" Beijing - rather than seeking approval from it - before going for such meetings, US consul-general in Hong Kong, Gregory May, told Associated Press yesterday.

The rule relaxation, which took effect in November, would make it easier for the consul general to have direct exchanges with officials in Hong Kong as part of normal diplomatic practice.

The previous rule was introduced in 2020 during heightened tensions between the United States and China.

"Per requirements established by the People's Republic of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the consul general currently notifies the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong of meetings with local government officials and government educational institutions five days in advance," the consulate said.

Asked about the rule change, Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu said Hong Kong would welcome any exchanges to improve business and cultural ties and works that can help promote the city.

But Lee did not answer whether he had met with the US consul-general.

"Any activities by consular staff have to be done in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations," he said.

"In regard to our communication and dealings with different consular staff, we, of course, will be in support of many activities, particularly people-to-people exchange, business promotion, enhancing mutual understanding, and any things that will bring exchange of people, culture and other communication together," he said.

Lee said Hong Kong officials will also be in contact with different people, including officials from foreign consulates, to enhance exchanges.

He said local authorities will perform their work in accordance with the convention.

In recent years, one country, two systems arrangement has become a talking point between the US and China as critics say the promise is becoming increasingly threadbare, especially after Beijing imposed the national security law in 2020, that led to a number of people being sentenced and jailed.