blocks Hong Kong-Taiwan embrace By Jens Kastner
TAIPEI - Taiwan's Beijing-friendly
Kuomintang (KMT) government would like to see Hong
Kong's Chief Executive Donald Tsang stop by on the
island. However, it seems Beijing and Tsang
himself aren't too keen on the implications of
such a visit.
Tsang has previously said an
official visit to Taipei was his heartfelt wish,
and the pending opening of Hong Kong's de facto
consulate in Taipei seemed to present a perfect
opportunity. However, Tsang no longer wants to
visit, with the reversal more lively based on
events in China rather than in
Hong Kong or Taiwan.
The formal opening of the Hong Kong
Economic, Trade and Cultural Office in Taipei -
which started operating in late 2011 - is expected
within months. Tsang said in his 2009 annual
policy address that he wanted to visit Taiwan
during his term, which ends on June 30.
Taiwan's representative office in Hong
Kong recently revealed that it had made what it
called "goodwill gestures" likely in preparation
for an invitation. However, these were reportedly
turned down by the chief executive's office.
A trip by Tsang to Taiwan would have been
a complicated matter. Since Beijing doesn't
recognize the Taiwanese government as legitimate,
the question of how he would address Taiwanese
officials is an early stumbling block.
potentially explosive such protocol issues are in
cross-Taiwan Strait meetings was demonstrated
vividly in 2010, when Chen Yunlin, chairman of
Beijing's Association for Relations Across the
Taiwan Strait, visited Taiwan, making him the
highest-ranking mainland official ever to do so.
Chen infamously addressed Taiwan's President Ma
Ying-jeou as "Mr Ma", enraging many Taiwanese and
costing the KMT significant political capital at
Tsang's status as the chief
executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative
Region (SAR) lends him a rank in the Chinese
political hierarchy equivalent to a provincial
governor or a minister. Taipei would therefore
have to put up with Beijing presenting Tsang's
trip to a mainland audience as two SARs dealing
with one another.
Already heading in that
direction, Tsang said in 2009, "Hong Kong can
introduce to Taiwan how the principle of 'one
country, two systems' is being implemented in the
"One country, two systems" is a
brainchild of China's former leader Deng Xiaoping.
It stipulates that the mainland, Hong Kong, Macau
and Taiwan all belong to "one China" but that each
region can have its own political system and run
its own legal, economic and financial affairs.
To the Taiwanese, having enjoyed de facto
independence for six decades, the Deng doctrine
has never been an attractive option.
Regardless of the obvious risks Tsang's
visit would bring about, the Taiwanese KMT
government under Ma still wanted him to come.
Chen In-Chin, a professor at Taiwan's
National Central University's Graduate Institute
of Law and Government, told Asia Times Online that
Ma felt the visit would benefit Taiwan's global
"President Ma intends to expand
his room for maneuver on the international stage
with the help of the Hong Kong connection," Chen
said. "Ma wants to get into the Trans-Pacific
Partnership [TPP], and Washington has signaled it
is okay with this, but it is a complicated
diplomatic game." 
The TPP is a
multilateral free trade agreement promoted by the
Barack Obama administration that excludes China.
Ma has made membership part of his "golden decade
plan", but Beijing is certain to oppose it as it
could enable Taiwan to drift from its orbit.
"By dealing properly with Hong Kong, Ma
can demonstrate to Beijing that it can give Taiwan
some international room. Hong Kong is a perfect
touchstone as it is a World Trade Organization
member and can individually sign free trade
agreements. Taiwan wants that, too," Chen said.
But Tsang has some plausible motivations
to drop by in Taipei, according to Chen.
"In recent months, there's been heated
brawls between the city and Beijing [mainly about
the Hongkongers' impression their city is flooded
by mainlanders], and many people merely see him as
Beijing's puppet. Tsang going to Taiwan could
prove to Hong Kong's population that he is doing
something for them."
Chen added that Hong
Kong maintained close relations with Taiwan prior
to the hand-over from Britain to China in 1997,
but that these had since cooled. Tsang could be
lauded for a trip that could revive business and
cultural ties. He is positive that it's the
Chinese leadership preventing Hong Kong and Taipei
from getting together.
both as SARs. Ties between two SARs mustn't be
closer than their respective ties to Beijing."
However, it is not totally implausible
that Beijing could applaud Tsang for traveling to
Taiwan. In 2006, Chinese President Hu Jintao
reportedly established an academic team that's
main task was finding a path between the "one
country, two systems" spurned by the Taiwanese and
the "special state-to-state relations", which is
an anathema to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
It's not clear if the mission was a
success, but it is evident that there have been
some major changes of attitude on Beijing's side
since. Hu's hallmark approach - that easy topics
are negotiated first between Beijing and Taipei,
thereby leaving the difficult and political ones
shelved - has proved hugely successful.
Given his high rank, a visit by Tsang to
Taipei could be seen in the same context, since it
would allow a fine-tuning of protocol and
etiquette in cross-strait meetings that then would
pave the way for mainland officials of a very high
rank to visit Taipei, as well as their Taiwanese
counterparts traveling to Beijing.
last year, Ma Ying-jeou indicated the possibility
of a peace agreement, but in the same breath said
that he couldn't sign it as long as Beijing would
not address him as "president".
Developments surrounding the Taiwanese
presidential and legislative elections in January
also signaled that Hu's academic team had been
In the past, Chinese media were
not allowed to use terms such as "president" and
"legislature" when reporting on Taiwanese politics
without putting them between inverted commas, but
during and after the elections even orthodox
state-run publications like the Global Times
skipped the practice.
The formula, if
there is any, is simple: If Beijing's media organs
can call Ma "president", figures like Tsang can do
so when visiting Taipei. A main stumbling block
for political cross-strait negotiations, including
those for a peace agreement, would seemingly be
Professor Chen confirmed that the
CCP had commissioned China's academic circles to
come up with new ideas.
acknowledge that for China's quest to achieve
unification, there's no easy way around the ROC
[Republic of China] constitution. But Hong Kong
might be a vehicle out of the quagmire. If a Hong
Kong chief executive would address Ma as
'president' as a trial, Beijing could observe the
reaction." A likewise strategy would explain
why Tsang said he wanted to go in the first place.
But Chen also presented a plausible explanation as
to why he changed his mind.
Chen, the lead-up to the Chinese leadership change
expected at the 18th party congress this autumn
has been getting out of hand for the CCP.
He cites the unfolding political drama in
Chonqing, where party chief Bo Xilai, who was
tipped to join the all-powerful Politburo Standing
Committee, is battling for his political survival
after his right-hand man, Chongqing vice mayor
Wang Lijun, tried to seek asylum in a US
While Bo's rivals, most
prominently Guangdong CCP chief Wang Yang, are
said to be laughing up their sleeves, the outgoing
CCP leadership is concerned events could spin out
of control and even impact on Hu's legacy.
"It'd be way too risky for Beijing to let
Tsang visit Taipei at this stage. If Tsang would
say anything here that faintly smacks of a formal
recognition of Taiwan's independent status, it
would give powerful political ammunition to
China's political left and ultra-nationalists.
They would then brand Tsang's moves [and Hu's
cross-strait approach] as treason."
Note 1. The
Trans-Pacific Partnership's nine full members are
Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand,
Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.
Jens Kastner is a Taipei-based
(Copyright 2012 Asia Times
Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please
contact us about sales, syndication and