A painting of Taiwan's national flag and a soldier is seen at Yangzhai Old Street in Kinmen. GETTY IMAGES

The head of a Hong Kong sports association resigned on Friday after making a gaffe that the government lambasted as potentially violating the "one-China" principle in reference to Taiwan, Agence France-Presse reported Friday. The Hong Kong government follows Beijing's orthodoxy that the self-ruled island of Taiwan is part of Chinese territory, to be reunited one day —by force if necessary.

Josephine Ip, chairperson of the Hong Kong, China Weightlifting and Powerlifting Association, was criticised this month after giving a speech that listed "Chinese Taipei" among the "countries" taking part in a tournament in Hong Kong. In international sport competitions, democratic Taiwan is referred to as "Chinese Taipei".

The Hong Kong government said on 11 May that Ip's speech was "absolutely unacceptable" and gave rise to a "suspected violation of the one-China principle", adding that local sports officials would investigate.

The weightlifting association said Friday that Ip has stepped down "due to personal reasons". The body earlier apologised for the "serious oversight" and said Ip bungled the speech which had meant to refer to Taiwan as a "region". But critics such as pro-Beijing politician Adrian Ho cast doubt on the explanation, pointing to a similar gaffe Ip made in March that referred to Hong Kong -—a special administrative region of China— as "a relatively small country".

Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong in 2020 after the Chinese finance hub saw massive pro-democracy protests. The law criminalises acts of secession, such as calling for the independence of regions like Hong Kong and Taiwan, and comes with a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Last year, Hong Kong's sports associations were told to include "China" in their official names or risk having funding pulled, as authorities sought to promote patriotism in the sector.

Ip's resignation came as Beijing held its second day of drills encircling Taiwan on Friday to test the Chinese military's ability to seize power over the island.