Hong Kong temporarily suspends operations at representative office in Taiwan

Hong Kong’s office started operations in 2011 and acts much like a consulate. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

HONG KONG (REUTERS, AFP) - Hong Kong's representative office in Taiwan has temporarily suspended operations, the city's constitutional and mainland affairs bureau said on Tuesday (May 18), without providing an explanation.

"The Hong Kong Economic, Trade and Cultural Office (Taiwan) has temporarily suspended operations with effect from today," Hong Kong's government said in a brief statement, which did not give a reason for the closure.

A government spokesman told AFP that the decision "has nothing to do with the coronavirus situation" in Taiwan where cases have recently spiked and prompted the re-imposition of some social distancing measures. Asked whether the closure was tied to politics, the spokesman declined to comment.

The bureau said in a statement that requests for assistance would be handled through hotlines and via the Hong Kong government website. It did not give any other details.

Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, which handles relations with China, said it "deeply regrets the Hong Kong government's unilateral decision" and vowed to keep its own office in the financial hub open despite strained ties.

According to Hong Kong's government, Taiwan is its second largest trading partner, its third largest market for domestic exports, its fifth largest market for re-exports and its second largest source of imports.

Representative offices were opened during a warmer period of ties. Hong Kong's office started operations in 2011 and acts much like a consulate, handling enquiries from residents in Taiwan as well as business and cultural exchanges. Taiwan has an equivalent office in Hong Kong.

But the offices have been caught up in souring relations between Taiwan and China. Taiwan has been open in recent years about how its officials have struggled to get visas.

Earlier this month, Taiwan said that only eight officials remained in the Hong Kong office and their visas will last only until the end of the year.

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen has been supportive of Hong Kong's democracy movement, which was quashed by a sweeping clampdown on dissent. Taipei has said it is open to Hong Kongers looking to resettle there.

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