China’s first official gay bar has opened after a three-week delay sparked by intense media attention.

Opening on Saturday evening, the bar is situated in the tourist town of Dali in the southwestern province of Yunnan. It is the first venue of its kind to receive government backing.

The project, which was due to be opened on World AIDS day on December 1st, aims to provide help and support for the LGBT community as well as provide information on HIV/AIDS  prevention.

Last year China’s Ministry of Health implemented its first ever national programme to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS among gay men.

The programme marked a subtle new phase in the one-party-state’s attitudes towards homosexuality since sodomy was decriminalised in 1997: No approval, no disapproval and no promotion.

The bar, which was founded by Dali HIV/AIDS charity worker Zhang Jianbo, was given 120,000 yuan (£10,000) of financial support from the government.

China’s health ministry warned earlier this month that homosexual transmission of HIV/AIDS was gaining pace.

Gay sex accounted for just 0.4 percent of new infections in 2005, but that figure had risen to 3.3 per cent by 2007.

Of the estimated 700,000 Chinese people living with HIV or AIDS, 11 per cent contracted the virus through gay sex, according to Ministry of Health figures.

Zhang, a doctor at a hospital in Dali, said in an earlier interview that raising awareness of the disease among the gay community was “extremely important”.

The official China Daily newspaper said in 2005 that the number of gays in China came to around 30 million, although it conceded few were willing to acknowledge their sexuality.

While homosexuality is still officially classified as a “mouldering life style of capitalism” in the officially communist state, there are no laws against gay sex or lifestyles. Neither are there any laws protecting Chinese gays from discrimination.