Venture into any outlet of Eslite Books in Taipei on a weekend and don't be surprised to find yourself rubbing shoulders with holidaying Hongkongers. They find the lure of coffee and books in these cultural oases too hard to resist, especially on a hot summer day. Back in Hong Kong, probably equally impressive numbers of Taiwanese visitors can be found in various shopping venues and scenic spots. More than two million islanders visit the city every year. Yet for all the talk about how close the two places are, it seems that the divisive influence of politics is never far in the background in Hong Kong-Taiwan relations. 'Hong Kong and Taiwan are very close, yet also very far from each other,' says Lu Ping, who has lived in Hong Kong for over four years as director of Taiwan's Kwang Hwa Information and Cultural Centre. Was that a hint of frustration from the former journalist, cultural critic and novelist? If so, it's not hard to understand why, since her repeated urging that culture should rise above politics appears to have fallen on deaf ears. She had to wait 11 months to get her work permit from the Hong Kong government: some suggested this was because of her close ties with Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party, which advocates independence for the island. Since her arrival, Ms Lu has avoided the deep waters of politics, instead trying very hard to get the Hong Kong government involved in Taiwanese cultural activities. But her efforts have borne little fruit so far because, she says, of the Hong Kong government's 'closed' attitude. This reflects its anxiousness to be close to the mainland since the handover, she thinks. 'It also fears that it has not done the right things. Having a close relationship with Taiwan has been categorised as being on the wrong side of things,' she said. Since the handover, Taiwan has operated unofficial representative offices in Hong Kong. Besides Kwang Hwa, the ostensibly private Chung Hwa Travel Service is Taipei's de facto consulate here, issuing visas and travel documents. Yet Hong Kong has not established any corresponding representative office in Taiwan, an issue over which the Mainland Affairs Council - the island's top body for planning mainland-related policy - has repeatedly voiced concerns. Because of the absence of such an office, Hong Kong tourists who run into trouble in Taiwan can seek help only from local police. Last month, some Hong Kong tourists were injured in a tour bus accident in southern Taiwan. Nobody from the Hong Kong government was there to represent them, fight for their rights or demand compensation. Michael You Ying-lung, vice-chairman of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, said: 'We have been asking [Hong Kong to establish an office] for a long time, but have heard nothing from them as of now. 'Politically, the Hong Kong government has continued to adopt a conservative policy towards Taiwan, which has been reflected particularly in high-level personnel exchanges.' Political relations between the two sides have seen little, if any, improvement over the past year, he noted. Mr You said high-ranking Taiwanese officials have often been refused entry to Hong Kong. In some cases they were told their visas were ready, only to have them cancelled at the last moment by city officials, he said. He hopes the situation will improve. Hong Kong's relations with Taiwan have been plagued by a series of controversial incidents. One of the most high-profile occurred in 2005, when Chung Hwa Travel Service managing director Pao Cheng-kang was barred from greeting Kuomingtang chairman Lien Chan during his stopover at Chek Lap Kok airport en route to his historic mainland tour - despite obtaining a permit in advance. Such meetings, said the Hong Kong government, were for consular staff only. In the first five years after the handover, Hong Kong-Taiwan relations were handled in an unofficial capacity by Paul Yip Kwok-wah, special adviser to former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa. But that responsibility has, since July 2002, shifted to the Constitutional Affairs Bureau, a move that Mr Yip said removed flexibility in addressing Taiwanese affairs. Then Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party replaced the Kuomingtang as the ruling party in the 2000 presidential election, and the island's relations with Beijing worsened. Hong Kong-Taiwanese relations these days are based more on strict official procedures and rules than in earlier, more flexible times, when there were regular if unofficial contacts between the two sides. But Mr Yip said he thought the relationship was unlikely to deteriorate in the near future unless there were drastic political changes on the island. Despite the criticism of its handling of Taiwanese affairs, a Constitutional Affairs Bureau spokesman insists that the Hong Kong government has been 'positive and proactive' in engaging Taiwan. 'The HKSAR government encourages exchanges between Hong Kong and Taiwan in accordance with the one-China policy, and under the framework of Qian's seven principles. [Under principles proposed by former deputy premier Qian Qichen, official Hong Kong-Taipei exchanges require Beijing's approval.] Over the past several years, Hong Kong-Taiwan relations have continued to grow,' the spokesman said. He claimed there are mechanisms in place to help Hongkongers in Taiwan. Whether or not a Hong Kong office will be set up on the island is 'a matter to be considered in the light of the prevailing developments in cross-strait affairs'. Many observers hope cultural and social exchanges between Taiwan and Hong Kong will grow irrespective of the political situation. That may be the best way to show that the 'one country, two systems' concept - originally intended by the late leader Deng Xiaoping to solve the Taiwan issue - is alive and well.