Misery loves company. Two people living under bridled circumstances usually develop a unique brotherhood.
We are talking about bosom pals Hong Kong and Taiwan. And the domineering Beijing, acting like the villain, is bringing Hong Kong even closer to the island, politically and ideologically.
What Hong Kong has been put through after the 1997 reunification serves as a warning to Taiwan on the prospects of its own relationship with China.
One telling indication is that the island, the only Chinese democracy, has become a top destination of Hongkongers seeking to migrate to a freer environment.
Conversely, Hong Kong, with its Cantopop tunes, movies, metropolitan status and higher career remuneration, appeals to Taiwanese as well. The mutual affection is cementing the shared bond of the two places in culture, language and even lineage.
Hong Kong has been drawing the island’s creme de la creme, either offspring of top leaders or financial or cultural elites.
Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was born in Hong Kong’s Kwong Wah Hospital. Ma’s elder daughter Lesley Ma Wei-chung (馬唯中) is the curator of Museum Plus at the West Kowloon Cultural District. Vice President Wu Den-yih’s (吳敦義) youngest son graduated from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and now works at Deutsche Bank’s office in the city.
City University president Kuo Way (郭位) and Secretary for Innovation and Technology Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung (楊偉雄) are also from the island. Famed Taiwanese essayist and cultural critic Lung Ying-tai (龍應台), the island’s first minister of culture, studied and lived in Hong Kong for almost a decade.
Accumulatively, around 10,000 Taiwanese entered Hong Kong for employment or higher education in the past three years, according to data from the Immigration Department.
Another evidence of the close-knit bond is the record-setting air traffic between the two places. Global travel transactions processor Amadeus ranks the route between Hong Kong and Taoyuan Airport, Taipei’s major aviation gateway, the world’s busiest international air route by passenger traffic: 5.1 million flew between Hong Kong and Taipei in 2014.
The route is a cash cow for both Cathay Pacific and China Airlines, Taiwan’s flag carrier, yet not so many may remember that the latter was forced to change its corporate identity before 1997, in particular its aircraft livery and logo, to the current “plum blossom” one, after Beijing forbade aircraft bearing the Republic of China flag and emblem from entering the new special administrative region.
It’s but a reminder that the Hong Kong-Taiwan relations are not without friction, and most of the kinks can be traced to the Beijing factor.
The city used to be an entrepôt for trade and political exchanges between the island and the mainland.
But both Hong Kong and Taiwan face profound susceptibilities when promoting connections internationally, and Beijing’s thinly-veiled involvement since 1997 have further exacerbated the challenges.
The SAR government, while toeing Beijing’s line, has refused to grant official status to Taiwan representatives in the territory.
Taiwan’s de facto consulate in Hong Kong was named Chung Hwa Travel Service (中華旅行社), although it was not a travel agency and thus didn’t have a license. The name was changed to Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in 2011.
Taiwan government agencies responsible for trade promotion and cultural affairs in the territory are Far East Trade Service and Kwang Hwa Information and Culture Centre.
In 1999, former Chinese vice premier Qian Qichen (錢其琛) blasted Hong Kong for allegedly conniving and engaging in separatist rhetoric after RTHK aired an interview with then Chung Hwa Travel Service manager Chang An-kuo (鄭安國), Taiwan’s top representative in Hong Kong, on Li Teng-hui’s (李登輝) “one China, one Taiwan” proclamation.
Chang’s visa was not renewed by the SAR authorities later that year and his successor waited for more than 13 months for his Hong Kong visa to assume the post.
In 2005, Ma, serving as Taipei mayor, had to cancel his trip to Hong Kong for an academic seminar due to unexplained visa delays, though the Tung Chee-hwa administration categorically denied that Beijing had anything to do with it.
Hong Kong also reined in local groups loyal to Taiwan and banned, subtly, the ROC flag from being flown freely, other than at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Park in Sheung Wan and a garden commemorating Sun in Tuen Mun.
The brush-off policy from the post-handover Hong Kong government hasn’t dampened Taiwan’s intense interest in the city’s politics, as anyhow, when Beijing broached the “one country, two systems” concept, it had its eyes on Taiwan.
Ma issued a stern warning in the thick of Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement in 2014, saying that “Beijing must be prudent as the Taiwan people are watching”.
For days, the island’s student leaders rallied outside the Hong Kong representative office and at Liberty Square in Taipei to demonstrate its solidarity with the Hong Kong democrats. The island’s elections also inspired Hongkongers as to how genuine democracy works.
Hong Kong and Taiwan’s reciprocal empathy toward each other is obviously worrying Beijing. China’s bellicose mouthpiece Global Times warns that Hong Kong’s pro-independence nativists “may collude with like-minded activists in Taiwan to foment trouble”.
Recent years have seen an uptick in the ties between the two governments.
Both sides established semi-official bodies for talks on economic and cultural issues in 2010, followed by a flurry of high-level visits in the ensuing years.
Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah is the most senior Hong Kong official to visit the island and Eric Chu Li-luan (朱立倫) paid a courtesy call in 2015 in his capacity as Kuomintang chairman.
A more despotic Beijing is feared as nativism is gaining momentum in Hong Kong and after Taiwan voters chose the Democratic Progressive Party’s presidential candidate.
Hong Kong’s future is bound to be eventful but we know Taiwan, our strong and faithful ally, will stand by us. And vice versa.
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