Sat, Jan 08, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Ma's setback was Beijing's whim

Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was denied a visa by the government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Ma, a superstar in the pan-blue camp, is considered a strong contender for the presidential election in 2008. Born in Hong Kong and the most popular Taiwanese politician there, Ma's setback gave rise to widespread debate. The visa rejection was probably a warning to him regarding his critical remarks on Beijing's anti-secession law, and his efforts to host the next meeting of the Asian Network of Major Cities.

China's unification propaganda targeting Taiwan has been consistent in its stance, but flexible in its strategy. It has always had the self-interest of the regime at heart. It is so flexible that even Ma, a pro-unification politician who has been dubbed the "future leader of the Taiwan Special Administrative Region" by some Taiwan independence activists, still could not escape being rejected by China. Anyone who oversteps the red line drawn by China will definitely be relentlessly attacked or admonished, making it clear to Taiwan's political figures that they do not have the right to comment freely on Beijing policy.

The Hong Kong government's visa refusal is more likely the result of complying with pressure from Beijing, rather than being an action taken on its own initiative. Yet this incident has created yet another political chasm between Taiwan and Hong Kong. Although Tung Chee-hwa (董建華) has managed to remain chief executive for a second term as a result of strenuous support from Beijing, his political-oriented reform of the economy and the ineffective reform of the welfare system means that he still has little popular support.

In Feb. 2001, the Hong Kong government gave Ma a high-profile reception, and memories of his success with the people of Hong Kong are still fresh. So why has Hong Kong's government decided to brave everyone's displeasure? The reason is pressure from China. If relations between Taiwan and Hong Kong cannot be based on the territory's autonomy, and if Hong Kong cannot even issue a visa without Beijing's approval, then the value of Hong Kong as a model of "one country, two systems" will cease. Taiwan and Hong Kong play the role of "cross-referenced indices" in China's policy. China continues to ignore the democratic aspirations of Hong Kong's people and also continues to put pressure on Taiwan, which has caused the territory to lose all faith in Beijing's promises.

At this time in cross-strait relations, all actions acquire added significance. A visit by Ma to Hong Kong has no political significance, and is not a challenge to China's "one country, two systems" policy, nor does it hinder Hong Kong's continued prosperity. In fact, it can only benefit exchanges between Hong Kong and Taiwan, and assist in improving cross-strait relations.

If China insists on using subjective criteria to view others' actions without taking into account the democratic currents in Taiwan and Hong Kong, any promise made by China will be treated with suspicion by all.

Now that Hong Kong has rejected Ma's application to visit, the people of Hong Kong are angry, the pan blue camp is disappointed, and the people of Taiwan are in despair. The reasons why China has rejected Ma are groundless; it only rejects Taiwan's people.

The negotiations about Lunar New Year charter flights give China another chance to work toward mutually beneficial cross-strait relations.

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