Beginning late last month, Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) started to make a succession of controversial remarks about Hong Kong and Singapore.
First Ko said that Hong Kong is too small to be fun. This is a dubious contention, purely from the perspective of whether he was basing this on a comparison between Hong Kong and Taipei: After all, Hong Kong covers more than 1,100km2, more than four times the size of Taipei.
If it is a case of the bigger the merrier, then it stands to reason that Hong Kong would surely be more fun than Taipei. In addition, whether a place is enjoyable might not have anything to do with its size; even if such a connection existed, it would be more reasonable to assume that the number of tourists visiting would be a better measure.
The figures speak for themselves. On average Hong Kong attracts about 1 million non-Chinese tourists per month, while in Taiwan, even if there was significant growth in the number of non-Chinese tourists last year, only 4 million tourists visited Taiwan over the whole year. Therefore, for non-Chinese people, Hong Kong is not only more fun than Taipei, it is more fun than the whole of Taiwan.
Of course being fun or not is purely subjective and everyone has a different idea of what that might be. Of course, Ko is not just anyone — he is the mayor. He should perhaps choose his words more carefully. The problem is not only that as the mayor of Taipei, Ko jumps to a conclusion based on his personal feelings, but he also thinks, from the bottom of his heart, that Hong Kong has nothing to teach him.
After being criticized — perhaps feeling resentful — Ko panned Hong Kong’s political environment for its restrictions and lack of freedom, and even involved Singapore in the messy business.
In general, unless a place has had many riots or is frequently rocked by coups, the political environment has little to do with its ability to attract tourists. Curiously, during the “Umbrella movement” two-and-a-half-years ago, the number of tourists to the territory did not drop, it increased, which was a blow to Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s (梁振英) administration, which had been trying to criticize the movement on the grounds that it would be bad for the economy.
It is even more noteworthy that the fundamental reason democratic freedoms are so curtailed in Hong Kong is that it has been under the suppression of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for a long time. Instead of Ko criticizing Hong Kong for lacking a “spirit of freedom,” would it not be more pertinent to label the CCP as the main cause of this?
However, Ko has shown himself to be flexible: During the Taipei-Shanghai Forum he showed deference toward the CCP and has been known to utter the slogan that “people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to the same family.”
If the mayor looks down on Singapore due to its dictatorship, why is he so obsequious toward the totalitarian CCP? Is it for expelling the Hong Kong and Singapore tourists who would originally like to visit Taiwan, so that the nation can rely more on China?
At a time when human rights advocate Lee Ming-che (李明哲) appears to have been kidnapped by the CCP, should not the anti-autocratic dictatorship Taipei mayor call on the CCP to release Lee, or at least express his concerns about the situation?
Ko’s weaknesses are that he either bullies good people or is scared of evil ones, and that he suddenly becomes “flexible” about his principles when circumstances call for it.
Leung Man-to is a professor of political science at National Cheng Kung University.
Translated by Lin Lee-kai
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