Taiwanese authorities may not renew work permits for Hong Kong officials on the island in retaliation for similar treatment by the Hong Kong government, amid souring relations following the introduction of a national security law in the city.
Taiwan’s policymaking Mainland Affairs Council, which also handles Hong Kong and Macau affairs, has threatened to take action after the Hong Kong government failed to renew permits for Taipei officials stationed in Hong Kong because they refused to sign a document supporting the one-China principle.
“Our side will take necessary actions to uphold our national dignity … and deal with the case based on parity and reciprocity,” the council said in a statement on Monday, responding to Hong Kong’s handling of the work permit issue. It did not elaborate.
Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.
Hong Kong has set up the Hong Kong Economic, Trade and Cultural Office (HKETCO) as its representative office in Taipei operating – like its Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (Teco) counterpart – as a quasi-diplomatic agency.
Larry Chu, deputy director general of HKETCO, has been the acting chief since mid-2018. He is about to complete his tenure soon, said a source familiar with the matter. There are 11 other senior HKETCO officials, and the tenures of some of them are also due to expire this year, the source said.
The latest row came after four senior Taiwanese officials posted by Teco in Hong Kong were forced to leave the city after they refused to sign a statement “rigorously upholding the one-China principle” and agreeing to abide by Hong Kong law as a condition of having their work visas renewed.
Kao Ming-tsun, Teco’s acting director general, 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. A secretary with the economic affairs section also returned to Taipei recently for the same reason, the source said.
Their departures leave Teco with just one director-level official who heads the economic affairs section, and 15 other lower-level officials, plus some 50 local staff, according to the source.
The council appointed Lu Chang-shui as Teco director general in mid-2018, but he has not taken office as Hong Kong has not yet approved his appointment, reportedly because he refuses to sign the document. Kao, head of Teco’s liaison section, has been acting on his behalf but with his return to the island, the only senior official still at Teco is its economic affairs section director, Ni Po-chia.
The council declined to confirm the one-China principle was behind the row, but complained of “political interference” over the personnel issue.
“Through the Taiwan-Hong Kong Economic and Cultural Cooperation Council, and Hong Kong-Taiwan Economic and Cultural Cooperation Council, we have expressed our concern over the [work permit] issue, but there has been no direct response from the Hong Kong side and they even raised the unreasonable demand that has gone beyond what was agreed when the two sides set up the offices,” the council said.
The two cooperation councils were established in 2010 when relations between Taiwan and Hong Kong were amiable under the presidency of Ma Ying-jeou in Taiwan. The representative offices were set up a year later to allow both sides to perform some consular functions such as issuing visas, but their staff must apply for three-year work visas.
Ma, from the Kuomintang, adopted a policy of engagement with Beijing and recognised the “1992 consensus” – an understanding that both Taiwan and the mainland agree that there is only one China, but each can have its own definition of what that means.
But relations with the mainland have deteriorated since Ma’s successor, Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, was elected president in 2016 and refused to accept the one-China principle.
This has also affected relations with Hong Kong authorities, and it has become increasingly difficult for Taiwan to send representatives to its Hong Kong office.
Rebel City: Hong Kong’s Year of Water and Fire is a new book of essays that chronicles the political confrontation that has gripped the city since June 2019. Edited by the South China Morning Post's Zuraidah Ibrahim and Jeffie Lam, the book draws on work from the Post's newsrooms across Hong Kong, Beijing, Washington and Singapore, with unmatched insights into all sides of the conflict. Buy directly from SCMP today and get a 15% discount (regular price HKD$198). It is available at major bookshops worldwide or online through Amazon, Kobo, Google Books, and eBooks.com.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Taiwan fears Hong Kong national security law will leave representative office unable to function
- Taipei warns of ‘hostage diplomacy’ under Beijing’s national security law in Hong Kong
- Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece accuses Taiwan’s ruling party of meddling in Hong Kong affairs