Taiwan politician ban adds to HK free-speech worries

September 01, 2016 08:00
Hong Kong’s decision to bar three Taiwan politicians from entering the city is seen as a reflection of Beijing's anger toward the DPP government of Tsai Ying-wen (inset). Photo: HKEJ, Bloomberg

Hong Kong's freedom of assembly and expression was diminished further last week as Beijing barred three Taiwan politicians from entering the city to attend a forum on cross-straits relations.

The ban also reduced further Hong Kong's historic role as a bridge between the mainland and Taiwan, a role it has played since 1949.

The Taiwanese were prevented from showing up at an event held at the Hong Kong Convention Centre in Wanchai on August 25. 

The forum, entitled "How to ease the blockage between the straits", was organized by the Hong Kong-based CS Culture Foundation, which arranges such events on a regular basis, drawing high-level people from the business, academic and political world.

The three Taiwanese who were refused entry last week were Yang Wei-chung, former spokesperson of the Kuomintang (KMT); Fan Shih-ping, an advisory committee member of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council; and Julian Kuo, a former legislator of the island's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

Chiang Su-hui, chairperson of CS Culture Foundation, said the central government's liaison office in Hong Kong called her to say that it would be troublesome if the three Taiwan politicians make their way to Hong Kong. Fan and Kuo were barred because of their connection with the DPP government and Yang because of his position on the stolen assets of the KMT, she said.

During the previous DPP administration (2000-2008), such a ban never happened, she said. "I fear it may happen in future fora."

In June, the KMT expelled Yang for criticizing the party. He is a member of the Committee on Illegal Party Assets Settlement, which is investigating assets collected by the KMT during its 50 years in power. Most people in Taiwan believe that these assets belong to the state and not the party.

Fan said he believes the ban was based on a fear that the three would "interfere" in Hong Kong's upcoming Legislative Council election.

One of Taiwan's official representatives in Hong Kong expressed regret at the decision. Yen Chueng-kuang, director-general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, said the Hong Kong government should be as generous as possible toward different points of view. "

"I hope relations between Hong Kong and Taiwan are not affected by political interference."

"Hong Kong is a place of freedom of opinion and which advocates freedom. Public opinion is very important," he said. "This year HK investment in Taiwan has increased 120 percent from the same period in 2015, while Taiwan investment here has grown 160 percent. HK tourism there is increasing. We hope these exchanges will not be affected by political factors."

Yang Wei-chung was more blunt. "What happened to Hong Kong's self-rule and high degree of autonomy?" he wrote on Facebook.

The pro-DPP Taipei Times said in an editorial last Friday that "Beijing’s tightening of its grip on Hong Kong not only betrays its frustration with its control over the territory but also demonstrates its anachronistic belief that it can curb the free exchange of ideas in a wired world."

CS Culture Foundation is a serious institution that arranges in-depth talks on cross-straits relations, providing an opportunity for exchange of different views. It represents exactly the platform Hong Kong should provide as a bridge between the two sides.

There appears to be two reasons behind the ban. One is Beijing's anger against the DPP government of President Tsai Ying-wen and her refusal to accept the '1992 Consensus'. The frictions have led to cutting back on official exchanges that blossomed under her predecessor, KMT's Ma Ying-jeou.

The other is the mainland's fear that the fight for independence by a portion – a minority – of the Taiwan population will affect Hong Kong. Beijing suspected that the three might speak on this issue ahead of the Sept. 4 Legco vote.

Last November, Chinese President Xi Jinping had a historic meeting with his then Taiwan counterpart, Ma Ying-jeou, the first such meeting in nearly 70 years. But it took place in Singapore, not in China. That was already a sign that Hong Kong had lost the role it enjoyed since 1949 as the bridge and meeting place between the two sides.

It was the place where relatives who could not go to the other's home could meet and through which gifts and messages could be sent to the other. It was the place for discreet meetings and diplomacy between the two sides.

Last week's ban will make Taiwan politicians and public even more uncertain about Hong Kong and its ability to remain a place of free assembly and expression.

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A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.