HK bureaucrats' paranoia can damage ties with Taiwan

March 22, 2016 15:08
The drama group's promotional material shows a picture of arts director Law Shuk-yin holding her graduation certificate with the name Taipei National University of the Arts. Photos: The Nonsensemakers/Facebook, Apple Daily

In its game plan, Beijing intends to make Hong Kong a showcase of its "one country, two systems" policy in a bid to attract Taiwan to accept a reunification deal with the People's Republic of China.

However, how can Beijing hope to lure the island with its promise of autonomy and non-intervention when Hong Kong officials themselves are showing the kind of paranoid mentality and mindless rigidity that has seeped into the Hong Kong government bureaucracy since the 1997 handover?

The latest political saga, triggered by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD), the government agency that oversees cultural activities in Hong Kong, threatens not only to put an unnecessary wrinkle to the city's so far unruffled relations with Taiwan but also to undermine cross-strait ties which have become sensitive after the Taiwanese people elected a pro-independence leader in January.

On Monday, The Nonsensemakers, a Hong Kong-based theater company, revealed that the LCSD, which is sponsoring its latest drama production, told them to delete the word "national" (國立) from the brief profile of the group's art administrator and executive producer Law Shuk-yin that's included in the promotional pamphlet for the event.

Law's alma mater is the Taipei National University of the Arts (國立台北藝術大學), and it is but normal to find such information in her profile.

But the LCSD official, according to the drama group, insisted that all publications about the threatrical presentation or the organization cannot have the word "National" in Chinese.

The drama group suggested that the company use instead the English name of the university, but the LCSD still didn't like the idea, and said it better use the school's simplified name in Chinese, Taipei Arts University (北藝大).

The Nonsensemakers thought the government's demand was utter nonsense and refused to yield to the censorship.

In an attempt to uphold freedom of expression, the group decided to do away with the entire profile of its director, and instead published a picture of Law holding her graduation certificate which bears the name of her alma mater.

In the space for her profile, Law wrote: "Is it enough to live in a country without freedom, no freedom of creation and freedom of expression?"

Hong Kong civil servants, once highly praised for their competence and efficiency, are now being politicized by their superiors and forced to follow directions that are highly political, especially on matters related to cross-strait relations.

Under the leadership of Beijing loyalist Leung Chun-ying, the Hong Kong government is putting emphasis on political issues, which could put pressure on frontline officials to tighten their grip on all Taiwan-related issues to please their boss.

On the issue of the drama group's promotional pamphlet, the government insisted that information about cultural events is the responsibility of organizers, thus throwing back the ball to the group's court.

But the matter is turning into a diplomatic issue involving Hong Kong, Taiwan and China.

While the Hong Kong government refused to admit any wrongdoing, Taiwan's representative office in the city has voiced concern about the issue. It called for mutual respect and said both sides should not politicize cultural activities or take actions that could hurt Hong Kong-Taiwan relations.

The office said it will officially take up the case with the Hong Kong government.

This is not the first time for the Hong Kong government to implement political censorship involving a Taiwan organization.

For example, the Hong Kong Film Archive was established to change the Chinese name of the Taiwan Film Institution (國家電影中心) into Taipei Film Institution (台北電影中心).

Why is the Hong Kong government quite sensitive about the use of the word "national" in Chinese?

That's because from the Communist Party's perspective, Taiwan is not an independent nation but a part of the People's Republic of China.

So all the names and official titles in Taiwan shouldn't connote that the island is a sovereign state, although it has been under independent rule since 1949 with its own government, head of state and other officials, legislature and armed forces.

Beijing is determined to uphold the "One China" policy, even threatening Taiwan with the use of force, and refuses to acknowledge that the Republic of China is ruling the island.

That doesn't mean, however, that the Hong Kong government must blindly follow what Beijing has done, given the close non-governmental relationship between Taiwan and Hong Kong.

However, Beijing's policy of political censorship is fast spreading into Hong Kong, affecting its cherished values such as freedom of expression.

Most Hong Kong people know the fact that Taiwan is not under the People's Republic of China. And more importantly, Hong Kong people won't accept the authorities putting a political color to non-political issues.

In The Nonsensemakers' case, a school name is just a school name, and there should be nothing controversial about the name of a Taiwanese school having the word "national" in it and the use of that name in Hong Kong.

In fact, the word "national" simply means the university is funded by the Taiwanese government. The name certainly doesn't affect, threaten or diminish the sovereignty of the People's Republic of China.

Hong Kong officials also may not know this, but the Taipei National University of the Arts is actually a sister university of the Beijing Film Academy.

The LCSD official's political decision, therefore, is pure nonsense. It's the result of ignorance, paranoia and obsequiousness to Beijing.

Hong Kong people have been admiring Taiwan's vibrant democracy since the Taiwanese were given the right to elect their leaders by way of universal suffrage in 1996.

However, official relations between Hong Kong and Taiwan fail to reflect the growing ties between their peoples.

Taiwan officials, for example, still find it hard to visit Hong Kong amid fears that travel to the territory in their official capacity could raise concerns over violation of the "one China" rule.

But such concerns have nothing to do with the name of a university, and it is not within the prerogative of the Hong Kong government to ban the use of its name.

By showing blind loyalty to Beijing, Hong Kong officials are making themselves look ridiculous, and undermining relations among China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

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EJ Insight writer