The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has asked consulates general in Hong Kong and Macau to rename their diplomatic offices, requesting that those based in Hong Kong remove “Macau” from their names, and vice-versa.

Many countries have consulates located in Hong Kong to cover consular services for Macau at the same time, with their official names containing the names of both Special Administrative Regions. For instance, the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong and Macau could be renamed as the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong, if it adheres to the Chinese foreign ministry request.

The Consulate General of Canada in Hong Kong and Macao told HKFP that they understood that all consulates in Hong Kong and Macau had received the request.

Hong Kong US Consulate General Embassy
US Consulate General, Hong Kong. File photo: Baycrest via Wikimedia Commons.

“The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed concerns about various inconsistencies in local consular missions’ nomenclature,” the consulate said.

“In Hong Kong, the matter is being coordinated by the Dean of the Consular Corps from Argentina,” the consulate added. “The request is under review.”

The region’s Portuguese consulate is located in Macau instead of Hong Kong – since Macau was a former Portuguese colony. Its official name is the Consulate General of Portugal in Macau and Hong Kong. If Portugal agrees to the Chinese request, the consulate may be renamed as the Consulate General of Portugal in Macau.

Portuguese consulate general Macau
The Portuguese consulate general in Macau. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Whhalbert.

Some countries have consulates located in Hong Kong which also serve Macau, but only contain Hong Kong in their official name – for instance, the Consulate General of Japan in Hong Kong and the German Consulate General Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, countries such as Angola – a Portuguese-speaking country – and the Philippines, have two separate consulates in Hong Kong and Macau. Therefore, they may not be affected by the Chinese request.

The European Union Office to Hong Kong and Macao told HKFP that the office was not asked to change its name.

Sofia Pegado da Silva Angola Macau
Sofia Pegado da Silva, consul general of Angola in Macau. File Photo: Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Deeper ties with Macau?

Wilson Chan Wai-shun, a lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Global Studies programme, told HKFP that inconsistencies among the names of consulates have existed since the 1997 Handover of Hong Kong.

He said a reason for the Chinese foreign ministry request could simply be to standardise the names of consulates.

Chan said another potential reason – though he maintained it was “highly speculative” – could be linked to China’s wish to have more consular missions in Macau.

“In handling certain diplomatic issues, China tends to conduct them in Macau,” he said, referring to a regular forum in Macau between China and Portuguese-speaking countries on economic and trade co-operation.

Macau flag raising ceremony
A flag-raising ceremony in Macau after the 1999 Handover. Photo: Macau government.

“Macau is a very special place for China and Portuguese-speaking countries to handle diplomatic and business issues, as well as for the training of officials,” he said. “China may want to discuss with Portuguese-speaking countries about increasing the role of Macau on issues such as the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative.”

“This could be the deeper meaning behind the name changes,” he added. “But, for now, we can only believe that the reason is ‘inconsistencies,’ as explained by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

In April, the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong asked foreign consulates in the city to make a “formal note of application” before they set up election ballot boxes for their expatriate citizens living in Hong Kong.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.