Hong Kong Suspends Taipei Office, Citing Its Support of Democracy Activists

May 22, 2021 Updated: June 3, 2021

Hong Kong suspended the operations of its representative office in Taipei, accusing Taiwan in a strongly worded statement on May 21 of helping pro-democracy activists.

The Hong Kong government said its decision last week to close the Hong Kong Economic, Trade and Cultural Office (HKETCO) in Taipei was because of the actions of the Taiwan–Hong Kong Office for Exchanges and Services (THKOES), claiming that the assistance it offered to pro-democracy activities “created irretrievable damage to Hong Kong-Taiwan relations,” according to the statement.

Last June, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen established THKOES under the Hong Kong Aid Project, as a response to the national security law imposed by the Chinese communist regime, which penalizes vaguely defined crimes such as subversion and secession with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Hong Kong police have carried out mass arrests of people who have protested against the national security law, prompting many to leave; some have moved to Taiwan.

Taipei said the office was created to provide “friendly and streamlined services and basic care for Hong Kong citizens arriving in Taiwan in need of assistance,” according to Taiwan’s office handling cross-strait relations.

The Hong Kong government said the support “grossly interfered” in the city’s “affairs,” an argument that the communist regime frequently uses to deflect criticism by Western governments over its human rights violations in the far-western Xinjiang region, Hong Kong, and Tibet.

The statement said the Hong Kong government would continue to handle general inquiries and requests for assistance made by Hong Kong residents in Taiwan through the official website and hotline service.

Based on the agreement between Hong Kong and Taiwan, HKETCO was opened in Taipei in December 2011 to promote economic and trade cooperation as well as cultural exchanges.

Taiwan’s office in Hong Kong has also encountered problems. The city’s authorities reportedly refused to renew eight staff members’ working permits unless they signed a document supporting Beijing’s claim to Taiwan under its “one China” policy. As a result, their visas are due to expire this year.

Following the enactment of the national security law, Hong Kong’s population fell in 2020 for the first time in nearly two decades, due to a large outflow of residents. The Taiwan immigration department’s data shows that residential permits issued to people from Hong Kong almost doubled in 2020.

Meanwhile, on May 20, Hong Kong’s High Court ruled that Tong Ying-kit, the first person charged under the national security law, would face a trial without a jury. Tong was arrested on July 1 for protesting against the new law and was charged with inciting separatism and terrorism.