Fri, Dec 08, 2017 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Politics closing Asia’s borders

Despite being citizens of an internationally isolated nation, Taiwanese have for years proudly enjoyed relaxed visa requirements when traveling to many nations, but recent cases of denied entry have raised concerns that political factors could create more hurdles.

Republic of China passport holders enjoy visa-free or visa on arrival access to 120 areas or nations, including 33 in the Asia-Pacific region, meaning Taiwanese are freer than ever to travel across Asia and beyond.

Even countries that have yet to significantly relax their visa rules toward Taiwanese, such as China, have sought to facilitate their visits through other means, such as offering more direct flights.

These policies are a response to a growing number of outbound travelers at a time when globalization has melted national borders and boosted international interactions.

However, this convenience has been jeopardized by its most fearful enemy: politics.

The latest example is General Association of Chinese Culture deputy secretary-general Chang Tieh-chih (張鐵志), who was denied entry to Hong Kong on Wednesday.

Chang was scheduled to attend the annual Four Cities Forum — which Taipei, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Shenzhen, China, take turns hosting — as a private citizen, but the association he works for is a quasi-governmental body with the nation’s president as its ceremonial head.

Chang told reporters that due to a previous job as editor-in-chief of a Hong Kong-based magazine, in 2013 he obtained a Hong Kong identity card that does not have an expiration date.

However, when he tried to enter Hong Kong on Wednesday he was told by customs officers that the identity card had expired. His request to apply for an e-visa was also denied, without any reason being given.

Chang is not the first Taiwanese to be shut out of Hong Kong. Many pan-green politicians and social movement participants — such as former Sunflower movement leader Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷) — have also been barred.

What makes Chang’s case particularly alarming is that it underscores a trend of China-administered territories closing their borders, not only to politicians representing sensitive ideologies, but also to those who only have one foot in politics.

Their criteria for persona non grata could be tightened in the future to include non-governmental organization workers or academics who are deemed critical of China.

Thailand is another example of a nation that is increasingly difficult for Taiwanese with political ties to visit, although the situation is less severe.

Former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairwoman Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) in July was forced to cancel a trip to Thailand after she failed to secure a visa. Her successor, KMT Chairman Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), came close to the same fate late last month, but Thai authorities made a last minute U-turn and issued him a visa one day before his scheduled departure.

No reasons were provided for the suspiciously difficult visa application process.

It is not just Taiwanese; people from other nations have been facing the same challenges; due to the prevalence of elected authoritarianism in Asia, the problem is destined to only grow in scope and size.

Unfortunately, there is little that can be done by the region or the international community to remove politically imposed travel barriers, which will only serve to separate the free from the unfree.

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