By Yimou Lee

TAIPEI (Reuters) -Taiwan criticised Hong Kong on Monday in an escalating row over China’s sovereignty claims over Taiwan, prompting it to pull out officials from its representative office in the Chinese-run city.

Taiwanese staff working at the island’s representative office in Hong Kong started leaving the former British colony on Sunday, after Hong Kong’s government demanded that the Taiwan officials sign a document supporting Beijing’s “one China” claim to Taiwan.

“Their purpose obviously was to diminish our national dignity and to force our staff to bow to the Beijing authorities,” Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council head Chiu Tai-san told reporters.

He said following the “unreasonable” request from Hong Kong’s government, Taiwan could no longer send officials to the financial hub and had to withdraw staff whose work visas were about to expire.

“Our government stands firm in guarding national dignity and lodges stern condemnation and a warning to the Chinese Communist Party and Hong Kong government,” he said.

Hong Kong’s government, in a statement to Reuters, said Taiwan was “confusing right and wrong”.

“The Special Administrative Region’s government must emphasise that Hong Kong and Taiwan belong to one China,” it added.

A senior Taiwan official familiar with the matter told Reuters Hong Kong’s government had demanded Taiwan officials who refused to sign the document leave the city by June 21.

Former colonial power Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula aimed at preserving the city’s freedoms and role as an international financial hub.

China considers Taiwan its own territory and has offered the island the same “one country two systems” model, under Chinese sovereignty.

No major Taiwanese political parties support the idea.

Hong Kong has become another source of tension between Taipei and Beijing, especially after Taiwan lambasted a new security law that Beijing imposed on Hong Kong and began welcoming Hong Kong people to settle on the democratic island.

Chiu said the office in Hong Kong would maintain operations but Taiwan will take “necessary measures” if its presence there is further jeopardised. He did not elaborate.

Last month, Hong Kong suspended operations at its representative office in Taiwan, accusing authorities there of “gross” interference in Hong Kong’s internal affairs, including with its offer to assist “violent” protesters, accusations Taiwan rejected.

Macau’s government suspended operations at its office in Taiwan on Wednesday.

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