Hong Kong national security law (NSL)
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The head of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, Taiwan’s primary arm in Hong Kong, has left the city along with two colleagues after they declined to sign a document recognising the ‘one-China’ policy. Photo: EPA-EFE

Head of Taiwan’s Hong Kong office, two colleagues forced to leave after refusing to sign document supporting ‘one-China’ principle

  • It is understood the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office plans to continue operating in the city, though it is now left with only one director-level staffer
  • Earlier this month, Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office warned Taipei against ’messing up’ Hong Kong, and described its ruling party as a ‘black hand’

The head of Taiwan’s office in Hong Kong was forced to leave the city this week alongside two directors after they refused to sign a declaration requiring them to “rigorously uphold the one-China principle” as a condition of visa renewal, the Post has learned.

Kao Ming-tsun, acting director general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO), departed on Thursday, a day after two other directors – one in charge of administration and the other overseeing services at the office – also left, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The declaration issued by the city government required the three to agree that Taiwan and the mainland comprise “one China”, the foundational element of the “1992 consensus”, something Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has refused to acknowledge.

The Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Hong Kong is now left with just one director-level staffer after its acting director general and two others failed to have their visas renewed. Photo: Edmond So

“While in Hong Kong, [you should] rigorously abide by the one-China principle and Hong Kong’s Basic Law, as well as the rule of law in Hong Kong,” the declaration reads.

The trio were told they would either have to sign or be unable to renew their visas, something they refused to do while awaiting the results of their applications, according to the source. They ultimately left Hong Kong as their visas had expired.

Their departure comes amid growing tension between Beijing and Taipei, which has publicly shown sympathy to the Hong Kong protest movement and opposed the imposition of the city’s new national security law.

The sweeping legislation, which went into effect on June 30, empowers law enforcement officials to request a broad array of details from any Taiwanese political organisations on issues deemed to involve national security.

Some analysts believe Hong Kong’s protest movement played a role in Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen landslide election victory in 2020. Photo: AP

While Beijing considers Taiwan a breakaway province, the island has its own democratic elections, as well as army and currency, and has ruled itself since the 1950s.

A spokesman from the Mainland Affairs Council, the Taipei government arm dealing with mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau affairs, on Friday urged Hong Kong to return to the previous “consensus” and maintain normal relations for the sake of residents in both jurisdictions.

“The Hong Kong authorities should follow the agreement for the establishment of [TECO] and not allow any political interference into it. Nor should they put in place unnecessary obstacles beyond the convention agreed to by both sides,” he said.

Taipei warns of ‘hostage diplomacy’ under Beijing’s national security law in Hong Kong

When asked if it had provided the declaration for signing, a spokesman from the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau said it would not comment on individual cases and that it would be for the Immigration Department to respond.

The Immigration Department said it would not make public information concerning individual cases, but had acted “in accordance with the relevant laws and policies”.

TECO functions as Taipei’s de facto outpost in Hong Kong, handling a wide range of issues, from visa applications to the promotion of business to cultural exchanges.

With the trio’s departure, only one director-level staffer is left at TECO, which is expected to maintain its presence in Hong Kong. Kao was made acting director general after Taiwan’s appointee, Lu Chang-shui, was denied a visa in late 2018.

A Hong Kong protester in Taiwan waves a flag marking the first anniversary of a mass rally in Hong Kong against a since-withdrawn extradition bill. Photo: AFP

The relationship between the city and its cross-straits neighbour has been strained by the year-long anti-government protests, which were triggered by a murder allegedly committed on the island by a Hongkonger.

The killing of the man’s pregnant girlfriend prompted the Hong Kong government to propose an extradition bill, one that would have opened the doors to fugitives being sent not only to Taiwan, but mainland China as well.

Taipei protested the law vehemently, saying the bill was an affront to its sovereignty as it would require implicit agreement that Taiwan is part of China, and put its residents at risk of being sent to the mainland and exposed to potential rights abuses.

The bill, which was eventually scrapped, sparked mass protests in Hong Kong that were soon marked by increasingly violent clashes with police and extensive vandalism.

National security law: Taipei says Hong Kong police powers under legislation ‘create fear’ on self-ruled island

Taiwan displeased the mainland further in June, when it announced a plan to provide humanitarian support, including a basic living allowance, to Hongkongers seeking asylum out of fear of prosecution for their involvement in the protests. It said at the same time it would welcome students and businesses as well.

On July 1, a spokeswoman for Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office warned Taipei against “messing up” Hong Kong and decried the ruling DPP as a “black hand” looking to undermine the city.

Political pundits have suggested the protests contributed at least in part to the victory of Tsai and her independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the island’s presidential election earlier this year.

Dr Camoes Tam Chi-keung, an expert on relations between Hong Kong and Taiwan, said that in the first decade after the city’s 1997 return to Chinese rule, the heads of Taiwanese institutions were routinely required to sign the document recognising the one-China principle in order to acquire work visas.

Beijing warns Taiwan’s ruling party not to ‘mess up’ Hong Kong affairs

The practice dated back to the so-called seven principles laid down by then vice-premier and foreign minister Qian Qichen in 1995, which allowed Taiwan’s representative institutions to continue operating in the city and conducting civilian exchanges after the handover, provided they abided by the Basic Law and accepted the one-China principle.

It was only during President Ma Ying-jeou’s term from 2008 to 2016 – a honeymoon period for cross-straits relations – that the Hong Kong government did not require Taiwanese representatives to make such an endorsement.

Tam said he understood that Beijing and the Hong Kong government had resumed demanding Taiwan representatives sign the document acknowledging the one-China principle since Tsai became president in 2016.

But while Hong Kong’s recent move does not represent the adding of a new requirement, Tam believed the timing was nonetheless significant.

“I think the Hong Kong government is trying to show to Beijing it is doing something after the imposition of the national security law,” he said.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: top Taiwan officials forced to leave city