Taiwanese flags fly during a rally by Taiwanese expats in Hong Kong. Photo: Facebook

Taiwan is making contingency plans for a worst-case scenario in which it has no official representatives in Hong Kong, after de-facto consul-general Kao Ming-tsun was undiplomatically forced to leave because he refused to acquiesce to Beijing’s one-China edict.

The island’s Foreign Ministry and the Mainland Affairs Council said Kao, acting director of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, left on July 16 upon finishing his term of office.

“The operations of the office is not affected, with all divisions functioning just as usual,” the ministry said.

Yet a project manager with Taiwan’s office in Hong Kong told Asia Times that Kao had no choice but to leave due to Hong Kong’s “point-blank refusal” to issue a new visa.

This confirmed previous reports about Hong Kong vetting politically the issuing of a new visa for the island’s top representative, with the requirement that he had to go if the conditions were not met.

“Hong Kong’s government once promised that it could issue a visa for our director within hours and accord courtesy to Taiwanese diplomats, but with a string attached,” said the project manager, who declined to be named.

“Kao was asked to sign documents about the ‘one-China’ principle and that Taiwan was part of the nation ruled by Beijing.

“We think this document was inserted after the promulgation of Beijing’s national security law for Hong Kong as in the past signing this sort of declaration was never part of the visa renewal procedures for Taiwanese diplomats dispatched to Hong Kong,” the project manager said.

Kao had to stand in for his supervisor and run the Hong Kong office after the new director of the office, Lu Chang-shui, faced unexplained delays in getting his own visa since 2018. Lu is forced to work from Taipei as the top representative of the island in Hong Kong.

Taiwan’s office in Hong Kong is the only one established in a city that is under Beijing’s sovereignty. There are five divisions in the office responsible for consular affairs, general affairs, news and culture, economy, and liaison.

The office’s 100-plus staff are typically on three-year rotations, meaning there will always be dozens of visa renewal applications to be adjudicated by the Immigration Department of Hong Kong’s government each year.

Taiwan’s representative office in Hong Kong is the island’s only quasi-diplomatic mission established in a place that is under Beijing’s sovereignty. The Hong Kong office used to act as a conduit for unofficial exchanges between Taiwan and Beijing. Photo: Handout
The new chief of Taiwan’s office in Hong Kong, Lu Chang-shui, is unable to go to the city since his appointment in 2018 as he cannot get a visa from the city’s government. Photo: Handout

Following Kao’s departure, Taiwan’s de facto consulate now has only one division head remaining, because several other officials working as attaches who were due to renew their visas also faced similar questions about their allegiance. They have ultimately decided to stand firm to defend Taiwan’s sovereignty and are packing to return to Taipei.

“Those remaining in Hong Kong also wonder if there will be more red tape and cold-shoulder treatment when they interact with the city’s government,” the project manager said.

“We have also prepared contingency plans in case Hong Kong’s police raid our office as the force has the power to do so under the new security law.

“Hong Kong has never recognized the diplomatic status of Taiwanese working at the office, as the city sticks to Beijing’s one-China rule.”

Kate Wen, a former cultural affairs coordinator with the office’s news and culture division, told Asia Times that the turnaround from Hong Kong’s government after a visa renewal application was filed had already been slow in previous years. She suspected that Beijing could be involved in the vetting.

A spokesperson for Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said on Sunday that the island’s representatives in Hong Kong would “hold fast to their duties” to make sure the office could still function normally, when asked if the office in Hong Kong may be shut by the city’s government if all staff refused to accede to the one-China rule.

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Minister Chen Ming-tong also lashed out at Hong Kong’s bid to add red tape to replace the established procedures and courtesy recognized by the two places, vowing that Taiwan would never accept “politically motivated preconditions.”

Taiwanese Premier Su Tseng-chang also chided Hong Kong’s government. “Hong Kong should accept the reality that Taiwan is and will alway be a sovereign nation,” he said on Sunday, adding that instead of doing Beijing’s bidding to browbeat Taiwan’s presence, the city should reflect on how to convince the world of its sustainability as a world city and financial center.

Su said the island would welcome Hongkongers, in particular its executives and professionals, with open arms as many flee their city. He added that a “front office” would be vital to refer cases and conduct checks, now that the island had pledged help for Hongkongers amid the exodus.

Taiwan’s office in Hong Kong provides services to no less than 60,000 Taiwanese residing in the territory. Photo: Facebook

Taiwanese lawmakers and scholars have also cautioned against the talk of closing the office, fearing the severing of ties with Hong Kong may put Taiwanese in the territory in peril, especially when the city police’s unchecked powers and Beijing’s overreach loom large over the island’s residents.

Excluding students, there were no less than 60,000 Taiwanese residing in the city, 2018 statistics from the office show. Taiwan’s semi-official Central News Agency also quoted the Mainland Affairs Council’s estimate that close to 70,000 people held both Taiwanese and Hong Kong residency as of 2019.

Lawmakers with the Kuomintang, a Beijing-friendly opposition party, have prodded the island’s government to step up liaison with Beijing and Hong Kong to keep the office.

Wu Rwei-ren, a senior research fellow with the Academia Sinica, Taiwan’s national research academy, also said it would be better for Taiwanese diplomats in Hong Kong to stick around until they were forced out. He said that this would expose Beijing’s bullying for the whole world to see.

“Hong Kong’s government appeared to be putting the weight of Beijing’s security legislation behind the requirement [of asking Taiwanese diplomats to acknowledge the ‘one-China’ principle] with the intention of crippling the operations of Taiwan’s office,” Wu said.

He added that, from the information he had gleaned from his mainland contacts, Beijing’s plan could be to reduce the size of Taiwan’s office in Hong Kong to merely a visa-processing center.

Beijing has long alleged that Taiwanese forces “aided and abetted” protesters in Hong Kong to stoke unrest and opposition to the city’s government and central authorities.

Read more:

HK security law guidelines put Taiwan in crosshairs

‘N Division’ the new Special Branch of HK police

Taiwan offers ‘proactive rescue’ to Hongkongers

China, US in row over quarantining of diplomats