Hong Kong is temporarily shutting its representative office in Taiwan, officials said on Tuesday in the latest indication of strained ties.
“The Hong Kong Economic, Trade and Cultural Office (in Taiwan) has temporarily suspended operations with effect from today,” Hong Kong’s government said in a brief statement, without giving a reason for the closure.
A government spokesman said that the decision “has nothing to do with the coronavirus situation” in Taiwan where cases have recently spiked and prompted the reimposition of social distancing and other measures.
Asked whether the closure was tied to politics, the spokesman declined to comment.
Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, which handles relations with China, said it was preparing a response.
Like Beijing, Hong Kong does not recognise the Taiwanese authorities as legitimate. It follows China’s policy that democratic, self-ruled Taiwan is part of its territory and must be reunited one day, by force if necessary.
However, there is a huge amount of trade between Hong Kong and Taiwan. According to Hong Kong’s government, Taiwan is its second-largest trading partner.
Hong Kong’s office started operations in 2011 and acts much like a consulate, handling enquiries from residents in Taiwan as well as business and cultural exchanges.
Taiwan has an equivalent office in Hong Kong, but both offices have been caught up in souring relations between Taipei and Beijing.
Taiwan has been public in recent years about how its officials have struggled to get Hong Kong visas. Earlier this month, Taiwan complained that only eight officials remained in their Hong Kong office and their visas will expire at the end of the year.
Taiwan’s democratically elected leader President Tsai Ing-wen has been supportive of Hong Kong’s democracy movement, which was quashed by a sweeping clampdown on dissent.
Since that happened, Taipei has said it is open to Hong Kong residents who would like to resettle there.
Hong Kong and Beijing have both bristled at that invitation as well as at criticism from Taipei over Hong Kong’s fading freedoms.