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Radio Free Asia

Taiwan to Keep Hong Kong Representative Office Despite Lack of Staff

2021-06-21 -- The democratic government of Taiwan said on Monday it will keep its representative office in Hong Kong manned by a single official, despite an ongoing row over visas.

Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) chief Chiu Tai-san said the government would keep its Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in Hong Kong going despite the refusal of visas for officials representing the country, which has been diplomatically isolated following prolonged international pressure from China.

"The goal [of withholding visas] is to belittle our country and force our staff to bow their heads to the Beijing authorities," he said.

He said the row had been sparked by an "unreasonable" request from Hong Kong's government. Reuters reported that the request had required Taiwanese officials to sign a document recognizing Beijing's territorial claim that Taiwan is a part of China.

"Our government stands firm in guarding national dignity and lodges stern condemnation and a warning to the Chinese Communist Party and Hong Kong government," he said.

The office would normally have a full complement of 19 staff members from Taiwan, as well as some locally hired employees, but will stay open with just one officer still in post, Chiu said.

"Maintaining our offices in Hong Kong and Macao is still mutually beneficial," Chiu told reporters. "Unless there are developments that seriously hinder the operation of these offices, we do not have a plan to close them."

Chiu's comments came after Hong Kong closed its representative office in Taipei in response to the Taiwan government's setting up of an office to process applications for political asylum for Hong Kong residents fleeing a broadening crackdown on dissent and political opposition under a national security law imposed by Beijing from July 1, 2020.

The formerly Portuguese-run city of Macau, which has been under ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) control since 1999, followed suit a few weeks later on June 19.

Taiwan's office for Hong Kong residents provides a one-stop-shop service to Hongkongers wanting to study, do business, invest, or seek asylum in the country, as part of a humanitarian assistance project Taiwan offered to Hong Kong people in the wake of mass arrests during and since the 2019 protest movement against the rolling back of democratic freedoms in the city.

Hong Kong's government has accused the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in Taiwan of "offering assistance to violent protesters and people who tried to shatter Hong Kong's prosperity and stability."

Ma Xiaoguang, spokesman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office said that Taiwan had violated Beijing's claim on its territory, although the island has never been ruled by the CCP, nor formed part of the People's Republic of China.

Deepening mistrust

Lin Fei-fan, deputy secretary-general of Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), said seven Taiwanese staff had been forced to leave after refusing to sign the "declaration."

"Beijing and the Hong Kong government continue to prohibit overseas politicians [who oppose China], media workers, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from entering Hong Kong," Lin said in a social media post.

"Many international organizations and journalists have also been forced to leave Hong Kong," he wrote. "Now, the CCP wants to isolate Hong Kong people by forcing Taiwan to withdraw from its representative office."

He said Beijing's actions would serve only to deepen the mistrust of the CCP among Taiwanese.

Under CCP general secretary Xi Jinping, China has stepped up its rhetoric claiming the island as part of its territory, and has refused to rule out a military invasion.

But President Tsai has repeatedly said that the country's 24 million people have no wish to give up their sovereignty or their democratic way of life.

Until tensions rose in the wake of Tsai's re-election in January 2020, Taiwan had been Hong Kong's second largest trading partner, while Hong Kong was Taiwan's fourth largest trading partner.

Since then, aircraft belonging to the People's Liberation Army (PLA) have made regular flights through Taiwan's air defense identification zone (ADIZ).

In 2018, the Pentagon warned that the PLA is gradually preparing for a possible invasion of Taiwan, as the CCP "continued to develop and deploy increasingly advanced military capabilities intended to coerce Taiwan, signal Chinese resolve, and gradually improve capabilities for an invasion."

The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has said Washington will no longer seek to "appease" China on Taiwan, after the State Department announced an end to a ban on high-level official and diplomatic contact with Taiwanese officials on Jan. 9, at the tail end of the Trump administration.

Reported by Hwang Chun-mei for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Chung Kuang-cheng for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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