The signing of a new aviation pact between Hong Kong and Taiwan, and changes to the way the Hong Kong Special Admin-istrative Region deals with Taiwan affairs, could herald changes in the way relations between Taiwan, Hong Kong and China develop.
The performance of Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (董建華) over the past five years can only be described as poor. It remains to be seen whether the newly-implemented "principal officials accountability system" will be successful. But Tung now has an opportunity to improve his performance, and to prove that Hong Kong can practice "one country, two systems" successfully, which will in turn help Beijing promote the idea for Taiwan.
Tung should be able to make use of thawing Taiwan-Hong Kong relations to speed up the handling of Taiwan affairs and prove that enforcing his new accountability system will correct the negative impressions of the territory held by the outside world.
Hong Kong has brought the management of its relations with Taiwan within the remit of its Constitutional Affairs Bureau. This has been regarded as a move by the Hong Kong government to upgrade the bilateral relationship by strengthening exchanges and interaction through an official, institutionalized mechanism. Basically, this new mechanism means that Tung has received Beijing's tacit consent to formally manage Taiwan-Hong Kong relations. Tung can boost economic, trade and cultural exchanges, create more diversified opportunities for political communication between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait and carry out political "unification propaganda" work. His performance and political reputation might even improve as a result.
When China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) set up an office in Macau on Feb. 4 this year, the director of China's Taiwan Affairs Office, Chen Yunlin (陳雲林), said at the opening ceremony that the new office would further facilitate ARATS' assistance to government agencies in promoting economic cooperation and exchanges across the Strait, as well as opening up China's contacts and channels of communication with Taiwan's political parties and organizations.
Chen's speech indicates that Beijing is becoming more pragmatic in its handling of cross-strait relations. Apart from establishing an ARATS office in Macau to strengthen its handling of Taiwan affairs, China also plans to increase the Hong Kong government's "political functions" in taking care of Taiwan affairs, proving with concrete action that it is sincere about resolving the cross-strait political stalemate.
Following this logic, it is not difficult to understand why Tung has passed responsibility for Taiwan affairs to the Constitutional Affairs Bureau. He even intends to treat as two related issues the question of Ping Lu's (平路) working visa to serve as director of Taiwan's Kwang Hwa Information and Culture Center and whether to station Hong Kong government representatives in Taiwan.
The new mechanism for Tai-wan affairs reveals that the Chinese authorities have again realized that Taiwan-Hong Kong exchanges can serve as a cross-strait political bridge. One also feels that Tung's political performance and development will be the most significant indicator for Beijing in promoting its "one country, two systems" model to Taiwan. New developments in Taipei-Hong Kong exchanges provide the territory's residents with an indicator of the success or failure of the new accountability system. It will also have a bearing on whether the "one country, two systems" policy can exert political influence in Taiwan.