Taiwan works towards easing economic climate with Tung meeting

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 July, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 July, 1997, 12:00am

Taiwan's dialogue with the new SAR Government should get a jump start from tomorrow's planned meeting between Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa and the chairman of Taipei's Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), Koo Chen-foo.

Mr Koo, who witnessed the ceremony on Monday marking the sovereignty transfer, announced the planned meeting yesterday afternoon.

The meeting should help relieve uncertainties among Taiwanese executives over the post-July 1 business climate in the SAR as well as providing a channel to resolve outstanding issues arising from the handover.

Taipei has worked to fix this by setting in place a framework, codified in a special law on post-transition relations with Hong Kong and Macau and a package of related implementing rules that aim to retain as much as possible while safeguarding Taiwan's national security, economic strength and dignity.

Provisions are also in place for continued direct transport links, including the five-year commercial air pact signed in June last year and a deal reached in May between the foundation and the Hong Kong Shipowners' Association - authorised by Beijing's Association for Relations Across the Strait (Arats) - to retain direct shipping links.

But the hiatus of talks between the foundation and Arats since Beijing broke off the non-official SEF-Arats dialogue in June 1995 has prevented discussions on the status of Taiwan's non-official offices in Hong Kong, such as the Chunghwa Travel Service, which issues visas and travel documents to Hong Kong residents, foreigners and Taiwanese.

Adding to uncertainty were statements by some Hong Kong politicians, including members of the SAR administration and the provisional legislature in the run-up to the handover that the SAR would 'not have final decision-making power on matters regarding relations between Hong Kong and Taiwan'.

In this context, the plan for a Koo-Tung meeting provides welcome support for the statement on Sunday by Paul Yip Kwok-wah, special adviser to Mr Tung, that Mr Tung 'has full powers to cope with all non-political issues between Hong Kong and Taiwan'. Mr Tung's decision to meet with Mr Koo 'is a very positive development and shows that Tung places great importance on the Taiwan relationship', Wang Yu-yen, chairman of the Taiwan Business Association in Hong Kong, said.

'Their discussion will probably focus on overall direction and not touch on concrete issues, but the fact of the meeting should encourage other Hong Kong SAR officials to be more friendly in dealing with Taiwan, including facilitating visas and other matters,' said Mr Wang, who believes Taiwan's business ties with Hong Kong will improve.

'The British Hong Kong government was even more conservative than Beijing and didn't dare to touch Taiwan matters out of fear of offending Xinhua [the New China News Agency and Beijing's non-official presence in Hong Kong],' Mr Wang said.

'Tung should be more aggressive in developing the economic and other non-political relations with Taiwan,' he said.

He said the strong support expressed for Hong Kong's development and high degree of autonomy by Chinese President Jiang Zemin in his statement at the handover ceremony 'will reinforce confidence that the mainland will honour what it has promised'.

But Mr Wang also noted that the SAR chief executive and his administration had a critical role in the transition from British colony to Chinese SAR.

'Whether the SAR can avoid economic harm from unconscious or unintended actions from the mainland all depends on the SAR chief executive and whether he, the legislature and all parties, officials and judges have the courage to stand up for Hong Kong's interests when necessary.'