Taiwan To Maintain Hong Kong Office Despite Visa Problems

Ceiling lights display the sign of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Hong Kong Monday, June 21, 2021. Taiwan says it will continue to operate its de facto consulate in Hong Kong, in spite of visa difficulties for staffers, and said it will continue to provide its consular services online. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Ceiling lights display the sign of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Hong Kong Monday, June 21, 2021. Taiwan says it will continue to operate its de facto consulate in Hong Kong, in spite of visa difficulties for staffers, and said it will continue to provide its consular services online. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwan says it will continue operating its de facto consulate in Hong Kong in spite of visa difficulties for its staffers while also providing consular services online.

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 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 required 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 Monday.

The Hong Kong government did not impose such requirements in the past, Chiu Tai-san said. “The goal is to belittle our country and force our staff to bow their heads to the Beijing authorities," he said.

Self-rule Taiwan has called the move “political suppression” and strongly condemned the Hong Kong government's action.

Ma Xiaoguang, the spokesperson of the Taiwan Affairs Office, which falls under China’s Cabinet, said in a statement 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 a civil war in 1949 through Hong Kong’s handover from British colonial rule to Beijing’s control in 1997.

Macao, 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 China imposed a 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.