Hong Kong suspended the operation of its representative office in Taipei because of what it described as “gross interference” in SAR affairs by the Taiwan government and to protect its staff from threats to their safety on the island.

In a strongly worded statement issued on Friday, the government said its decision earlier this week to close the Hong Kong Economic, Trade and Cultural Office (HKETCO) in Taipei was linked to the actions of the Taiwan-Hong Kong Office for Exchanges and Services in the SAR – which it said was “offering assistance to violent protesters and people who tried to shatter Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability” during the protests which rocked the city in recent years.

Taiwan Presidential Inauguration (5)
Tsai Ing-wen. Taiwan Presidential Inauguration. Photo: Taiwan Gov’t.

“In recent years, Taiwan has grossly interfered in Hong Kong’s affairs on repeated occasions and created irretrievable damage to Hong Kong-Taiwan relations,” the statement read. “… Taiwan’s series of actions in recent years has severely damaged Hong Kong-Taiwan relations, gradually jeopardising the operating environment for the HKETCO in Taiwan.”

The SAR government added that staff members of the HKETCO Taipei office have been “threatened by radicals” across the strait, and that all Hong Kong staff members have since returned to the city.

The government also said that they would continue to handle Taiwan-related matters in Hong Kong in accordance with the Basic Law, the one-China principle, and Beijing’s policies following the temporary suspension of the HKETCO Taiwan office on Tuesday.

Taiwan has been ruled by the Republic of China government since 1945 after Japan — which occupied the island for 50 years — was defeated in the Second World War. The People’s Republic of China claims that Taiwan is one of its provinces and does not recognise it as an independent country.

The trade office was opened in Taipei in May 2012 as a means to promote economic and cultural exchanges.

‘Humanitarian Aid Project’

President Tsai Ing-wen’s administration announced the launch of the Taiwan-Hong Kong Office for Exchanges and Services in June last year as a response to the Beijing-imposed national security law in Hong Kong.

National security law
Photo: GovHK.

The office was set up under the “Hong Kong Humanitarian Aid Project” to provide “friendly and streamlined services and basic care for Hong Kong citizens arriving in Taiwan in need of assistance,” according to the Taiwan Mainland Affairs Council.

In June 2020, Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – bypassing the local legislature – following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, colluding with foreign interference and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to public transport and other infrastructure.

The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China.

The programme offered consultation services and assistance to Hong Kong people who wish to move to Taiwan.

The city has witnessed a slight drop in its population last year after Hong Kong recorded an outflow of 49,900 residents as countries such as the UK and Australia announced schemes to allow Hong Kong people to obtain residency more easily.

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.