24 October 2016
Only Ma Ying-jeou knows why he would want to speak in Hong Kong about sensitive issues so soon after being replaced as Taiwan's president. Photo: Bloomberg
Only Ma Ying-jeou knows why he would want to speak in Hong Kong about sensitive issues so soon after being replaced as Taiwan's president. Photo: Bloomberg

Why Ma Ying-jeou shouldn’t visit Hong Kong

Former Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou was born in Hong Kong, so he should have the right to return to his birthplace for any reason — unless there are political considerations to the contrary.

There are indeed, and that is why Ma’s successor, Tsai Ing-wen, rejected his application for permission to travel to Hong Kong to give a speech Wednesday on the region’s geopolitics, including cross-strait ties and South China Sea territorial disputes.

As a former president of Taiwan, Ma is still an influential political figure in Greater China and the rest of Asia.

No one except Ma knows why he would want to give a speech in Hong Kong on such sensitive topics now.

On Sunday, Taiwan’s presidential office announced its decision to deny Ma permission for the visit, citing four main reasons: Ma stepped down as president less than a month ago; it has yet to be determined what confidential reports and information Ma has received from the administration; Hong Kong is an area of concern in relation to Taiwan’s national security; and there is no system in place for cooperation between the island’s Security Bureau and the Hong Kong government.

As expected, the decision drew different responses from the supporters of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (green camp) and those of the opposition Kuomintang (blue camp).

The green camp naturally supported Tsai’s decision, pointing out that the application was late, coming just 15 days before Ma’s proposed trip, when the law requires all such applications to be made 20 days in advance.

Some politicians from the green camp praised Tsai for her decision. They said Ma may be “outspoken” on cross-strait relations.

They recalled that Ma met Chinese President Xi Jinping in November, raising concerns that Ma’s Kuomintang may be secretly working with Beijing to achieve the mainland’s goal of reunification with the island, which it considers a rogue province.

On Monday morning, speaking outside his home before his morning jog, Ma responded to the presidential office’s decision with three questions: first, is it necessary? Second, is it fair? Third, is it reasonable?

He told reporters the decision had triggered a controversy in the community and he believed that the public will make its own judgment on it.

Ma’s response indicated that he might have had a hidden agenda for his visit to Hong Kong; otherwise, why would he be so keen on visiting the city this week instead of waiting for a more appropriate time?

New Power Party lawmaker Hsu Yung-ming asked Ma whether he had a secret mission to fulfill in Hong Kong.

Hsu criticized Ma for creating lots of trouble for Tsai and her administration and for trying to test their limits.

“If Ma knows Hong Kong is quite a sensitive place in cross-strait relations, and Hong Kong is a place fully controlled by the Communist Party, how come Ma still insists on making a visit to test the government’s red line?” he said.

Hsu said the presidential office’s decision is based on the Classified National Security Information Protection Act, which imposes restrictions on former leaders and officials, and Ma should respect the law of Taiwan.

Ma, for his part, insisted that the Hong Kong visit would have been fully monitored by the media and that there was no hidden agenda or arrangements to meet any political figures from the mainland.

Some Hong Kong commentators linked Ma’s proposed visit to the recent disappearance of Hong Kong bookseller Lee Bo and his colleagues, and some said Ma could cross the border to the mainland, for his own reasons, after arriving in the city.

In voting for Tsai and her party in the recent elections, the people of Taiwan voted against establishing closer ties with Beijing, which Ma took great pains to achieve during his eight years in office.

Many people on the island have expressed concerns that Ma might leak classified information during the trip to Hong Kong or that he would remain abroad to avoid prosecution for alleged wrongdoing.

Ma should ask himself whether the reason for the now aborted visit to Hong Kong was merely to give a speech at an event. Or did he want to embarrass the new government of Taiwan in front of the media? Or was it to lay the groundwork for a future meeting with mainland leaders in Beijing?

All these would hae been good reasons for Tsai’s refusal to allow Ma to visit Hong Kong.

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EJ Insight writer

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