Why Kaohsiung mayor's HK trip has become a talking point

March 27, 2019 18:57
Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu (center) met up with Beijing’s envoy in Hong Kong during a trip to the territory, creating political ripples in both Hong Kong and Taiwan. Photo: CNSA

Han Kuo-yu, the Kuomintang (KMT) mayor of the city of Kaohsiung in Taiwan, paid a flying visit to Hong Kong last Friday and took the city by storm.

The mayor left for Macau the very next day before traveling to mainland China, yet the ramifications of his visit are continuing to ripple in both Hong Kong and Taiwan.

In particular, Han’s closed-door meeting and dinner with Wang Zhimin, Director of Beijing’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong, have raised a lot of eyebrows in Taiwan, especially among key members of the independence leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and put him in the firing line for allegedly “selling out Taiwan”.

Among those who have lashed out at Han is Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen, who is currently on an official visit to a number of South Pacific Island countries.

Tsai, who is from the ruling DPP, told reporters that Han’s meeting with Wang is inappropriate because the Liaison Office is China’s key institution for implementing “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong, and hence once cannot rule out the possibility that Beijing's motive behind the meeting was to create an atmosphere conducive to imposing “one country, two systems” on Taiwan as well.

Tsai bluntly called into question whether Han had the necessary awareness to engage with a mainland official. 

Meanwhile, her vocal criticism has also given rise to speculation as to whether she was trying to seize the opportunity to discredit Han, who has been widely seen as a potential front-runner in the 2020 Taiwan presidential election.

In rebuttal, Han dismissed all the accusations -- of selling out Taiwan and Kaohsiung -- made against him as “sour grapes” and characterized the allegations as being meaningless.

According to the explanation of a seasoned figure in the pro-establishment camp, the reason why Han was officially received by both the Liaison Offices in Hong Kong and Macau in a high-profile manner is mainly because his KMT background is accorded high value.

By treating Han nicely during his visit, Beijing might have tried to send to a message to Tsai and the ruling DPP. The message is that there is still room for cross-strait economic and trade cooperation even if the DPP remains in power as long as it stops leaning toward the pro-independence line, the source added.

Lo Man-tuen, vice-chairman of the All-China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese, said the main reason why Han was given a warm welcome by the Liaison Offices in Hong Kong and Macau is that the KMT has publicly endorsed the “1992 Consensus”.

“As long as you acknowledge the ‘1992 Consensus’ and the principle of ‘One China’, Beijing’s door for discussion, or virtually anything, is always open. And the industrial and business sectors of both Hong Kong and Macau would also welcome you with open arms as well,” he stressed.

Lo said he didn’t see any necessary association between Han’s trip and his prospects of running for Taiwanese president in 2020.

However, some in the Hong Kong pro-democracy camp don't see it that way.

Shortly after Han’s meeting with Wang, Demosistō, along with pan-democratic lawmakers Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, Au Nok-hin and Leung Yiu-chung, drew up a joint petition criticizing Han’s visit to the Liaison Office as inappropriate.

Yet apart from them, the majority of the mainstream pan-dem lawmakers didn’t sign the petition, indicating that the camp could be split over the issue.

As a pan-democratic lawmaker has pointed out, legislators in Hong Kong are in no position to comment on who Han would be meeting during his visit, given that he is the sitting mayor of a special municipality of Taiwan, and not a HKSAR official.

Although the pan-dems have long been voicing deep worries over Beijing’s increasing deviation from the policy of “one country, two systems”, there is no need to be hyper-sensitive about Han’s visit to the Liaison Office, the lawmaker said.

Meanwhile, he also dismissed concerns about further divisions among the pan-democratic camp as a result of the Han episode, pointing out that it isn’t uncommon for other pan-dems to not sign a petition drawn up by their colleagues, because they don’t necessarily totally agree with one another over each and every issue.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 25

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.