Thursday, August 5, 2021

Taiwan to maintain Hong Kong office despite visa block

To get new visas, Taiwanese staff must sign a statement accepting the 'One China principle', which they refuse to do.

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Taiwan says it will continue operating its de facto consulate in Hong Kong in spite of an impasse preventing its Taiwanese staff from being issued new visas.

The Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Hong Kong has been unable to get new visas for its staff after the Hong Kong government in 2018 began requiring that Taiwanese personnel at the office sign a statement accepting the “One China principle”, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said.

The office currently has just one Taiwanese staffer left in Hong Kong whose visa is due to expire next month.

The One China principle holds that Taiwan is part of China and the Communist government in Beijing is China’s sole legitimate government. Taiwan has refused to sign the statement.

The Hong Kong government also require the heads of Taiwan’s trade office and tourism bureau in the city to sign a similar statement, the head of the Mainland Affairs Council said on Monday.

Lin Fei-fan, deputy secretary-general of Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party, said because of the lack of new visas only local staff would remain at the office.

“This is because the Chinese Communist Party and the Hong Kong government continue to force our personnel stationed in Hong Kong to sign a ‘One China Commitment Letter’ as a political prerequisite for the visa renewal,” he said.

“We will of course not accept it!”

The Hong Kong government did not impose such requirements in the past, the Mainland Affairs Council said. “The goal is to belittle our country and force our staff to bow their heads to the Beijing authorities.”

Taipei has called the move “political suppression” and strongly condemned the Hong Kong government’s action.

Ma Xiaoguang, the spokesman of the Taiwan Affairs Office, which falls under China’s Cabinet, said in a statement on Sunday that exchanges between Hong Kong and “Chinese Taiwan” must be based on the One China principle.

Taipei has had a quasi-diplomatic presence in Hong Kong since Taiwan’s split with mainland China during the 1949 civil war.

Macao, a Portuguese dependency until 1999, now a semi-autonomous Chinese region, shut its representative office in Taipei last week.

Hong Kong closed its office in Taipei in May, saying that Taiwan had provided assistance to “violent protesters”.

Taiwan has quietly helped Hong Kong pro-democracy activists seeking asylum as many started to flee the city after Beijing imposed its tough new national security law in June 2020 which laid the groundwork for a crackdown on protests.

Since the election of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016, China has stepped up diplomatic, economic and military pressure on Taiwan, poaching its diplomatic allies and, starting last year, sending military planes near it on a near-daily basis.

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