Monday, 13 June 2016

Ma Ying-jeou's Not Coming to HK

Ma Ying-jeou will give his speech to Hong Kong via video link on Wednesday
There was a bit of buzz about former Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou coming to Hong Kong for the upcoming Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA) as the keynote speaker on Wednesday. He was going to talk about cross-strait relations during his time as president.

Ma's staff were at pains to stress the visit would only be for a day, he would only attend this awards event, and that he wouldn't even visit his daughter who lives here with her husband.

However, Ma's request to travel was at the mercy of the new Tsai administration. According to Taiwan's Classified National Security Information Protection Act passed in 2003, former government officials with access to classified information are subject to travel restrictions for three years after leaving office.

And in this case, the Taiwanese government forbade Ma from coming to Hong Kong.

The annual SOPA awards recognize excellence in journalism
The government cited many reasons, including that he only recently left office on May 20, the request was made at short notice, the "sensitivity" of Hong Kong, and the lack of security cooperation in the city.

If Ma's trip had been approved, he would have been the first former leader of Taiwan to visit Hong Kong since 1949.

His office voiced regret at the decision, saying that it not only showed disrespect to the former leader, but also damages Taiwan's democratic image in the world.

The official opposition criticized the Tsai administration for showing "a lack of confidence and goodwill".

As Ma had planned to talk about the touchy subject of cross-strait relations, perhaps it's not surprising Tsai may have been concerned that others may misconstrue his ideas as those of the new president's platform.

Or perhaps she didn't want to give him a stage on which to present his ideas, particularly on rejuvenating the 1992 consensus, where both sides agreed on "one China", but they were each open to their own interpretation of what "China" was.

In any event, the law making visits by former government officials subject to travel restrictions is very interesting, and also reveals how Taiwan is concerned about how it is perceived outside.

So instead SOPA will have to accept that Ma will still give his speech via video link, upsetting his many fans in Hong Kong who had hoped to meet him in the flesh.

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