Allowing the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) to set up offices in Beijing and Taipei could legalize any ongoing under-the-table unification efforts by China and force Taiwan to follow Hong Kong as a Chinese special administrative region, former Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) deputy chairman David Huang (黃偉峰) said yesterday.
Huang, an associate research fellow at the Institute of European and American Studies at Academia Sinica who has served as Taiwan’s deputy representative to the US, made the remark following President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) proposal on Friday to amend the Act Governing Relations Between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (台灣地區與大陸地區人民關係條例) to allow both the SEF and ARATS to establish branch offices in each other’s capitals.
“Granting ARATS the right to establish an office in Taiwan could have a profound impact on cross-strait relations, as it would most likely follow in the steps of the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in Hong Kong,” Huang said on the sidelines of a forum organized by the Taiwan Brain Trust think tank in Taipei.
During the period Hong Kong was under British rule, the Chinese liaison office was known as the Xinhua News Agency Hong Kong Branch — a Chinese institute in charge of everyday Hong Kong affairs, management of Hong Kong-based Chinese-funded companies and even Taiwan-related affairs.
During that time, the agency was considered a bastion of pro-Beijing power, which promoted the rise of Chinese-funded corporations in Hong Kong and also took charge of bilateral talks between Beijing and London over the transfer of Hong Kong’s sovereignty in 1997.
Academics who studied the years before Hong Kong’s retrocession have also pointed out that the Xinhua bureau served as a base from which the Chinese intelligence apparatus collected information within the former British colony.
“If the ARATS is to establish a branch office in Taiwan, it would no doubt become China’s primary base in handling Taiwan affairs and could legitimize all under-the-table work — such as collecting intelligence, influencing public opinion and the media, as well as extending the influence of Chinese-funded companies in Taiwan,” Huang said.
Huang also cautioned that if the SEF were to erect branch offices in the Chinese cities of Guangzhou and Shanghai, they would most likely be defined as semi-official organizations or even as “semi-consulates.”
“Furthermore, if the government is to implement an absentee voting mechanism in the future, Taiwanese businesspeople based in China may have to register with these institutes before they can cast a vote, which could be a decisive factor in future presidential elections and have an adverse impact on opposition parties in Taiwan,” Huang said.
Translated by Stacy Hsu, staff writer