HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong’s government on Friday said it has pulled all of its staff out of Taiwan and accused the island’s government of having “grossly interfered” in the semi-autonomous Chinese city’s internal affairs.
Taiwan responded by saying Hong Kong had politicized a connection that was dedicated to serving the public, and that it supports universal values of free speech and assembly.
Hong Kong said its Economic, Trade and Cultural Office will remain closed while it closely monitors development and considers the way forward “in a holistic manner.”
Relations between the sides have deteriorated in recent years as Beijing tightens its control over Hong Kong and ratchets up diplomatic, military and economic pressure on Taiwan, which it claims as its own territory, to be brought under its control by force if necessary.
The future of Taiwan’s de facto consulate in Hong Kong, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, also appears bleak, with Hong Kong refusing to issue visas to several of its officials, reportedly because they refused to sign declarations endorsing Beijing’s contention that Taiwan belongs to China.
Beijing has severely curtailed freedoms promised to Hong Kong after its transfer from British to Chinese rule in 1997, particularly with the imposition last year of a sweeping national security law demanding total loyalty to Beijing and the ruling Communist Party and outlawing involvement with overseas groups considered hostile to China. That has prompted some Hong Kong opposition figures and free speech advocates to flee to Taiwan, where the government has provided quiet support.
In a statement, the Hong Kong government cited actions that have “severely damaged Hong Kong-Taiwan relations, gradually jeopardizing the operating environment for the HKETCO in Taiwan.” It said staff members had been threatened by “radicals in Taiwan,” but gave no details.
It said the Taiwan-based “Hong Kong Aid Project” and “Taiwan-Hong Kong Office for Exchanges and Services” had provided assistance to “violent protesters and people who tried to shatter Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability.“ Taiwan’s government voiced support for pro-democracy protests in 2019 which became increasingly violent amid a harsh crackdown backed by Beijing.
“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 said.
Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, responsible for relations with China, said Hong Kong would bear the consequences of the disruption in contacts, and that Taiwan’s office in the city would continue its work.
It said protests outside the Hong Kong office in Taipei were legal and police had maintained order, while Hong Kong had allowed pro-China groups to smear its presence in the territory.
Taiwan is obligated to protect those facing political persecution, while the Hong Kong government’s “contempt for democracy and the rule of law reflects its guilty conscience, which we regret deeply,” it said in a statement.