Visas hard for Taiwanese officials to get, says envoy
Gary Cheung and Fanny W. Y. Fung
Taipei's top representative in the city says it's easier for islanders to visit the mainland than Hong Kong
Official contacts between Taiwan and Hong Kong have been lagging behind unofficial ones and Taiwanese officials have found it difficult to secure visas, says the island's top representative in the city.
Jeff Yang Jia-jiunn, who arrived in Hong Kong in late December to be managing director of Chung Hwa Travel Service - Taiwan's de facto consulate - said the success rate of high-ranking Taiwanese government officials applying for Hong Kong visas in recent years was far lower than that of applications for entry to the mainland.
'Of those who formally filed written applications, I am afraid fewer than one in 20 have been granted visas,' he said.
'Even in those very special cases, in which Chung Hwa and other groups made lots of time-consuming efforts, only half of the applications are successful.'
Mr Yang told the South China Morning Post yesterday that even a Hong Kong-born official had had his application to visit the city with his family rejected last month, even though he had paid two earlier visits to Hong Kong over the past few years.
The official - of deputy director rank under the Executive Yuan and Mr Yang - had been visiting Shunde , Guangdong, with his family before trying to visit Hong Kong.
Mr Yang said Chung Hwa Travel Service was seeking an explanation from the Hong Kong government.
He said the difficulties faced by Taiwanese officials in obtaining visas to the city was in stark contrast to the relative ease they faced in visiting the mainland, with more than 90 per cent of applications being successful.
'We have no problems in visiting the mainland. Taiwanese officials often visit the mainland and mainland officials often visit Taiwan too,' Mr Yang said.
'The mainland authorities handle these matters more flexibly than Hong Kong.'
Citing historical reasons for the barriers, Mr Yang said there were not many exchanges between the two places during Hong Kong's colonial period and big changes could not be expected soon after the handover.
'I understand it is not easy for the Hong Kong government to handle the tie with Taiwan because it faces constraints under 'one country, two systems',' he said.
Responding to Mr Yang's remarks, a spokesman for Hong Kong's Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau said: 'We welcome Taiwan people from all walks of life to visit, work in and invest in Hong Kong. In the years ahead, the Hong Kong government will continue to adopt a positive and proactive approach in promoting exchanges between Hong Kong and Taiwan.'
The spokesman also noted that Hong Kong conducted its relationship with Taiwan under the 'one country, two systems' concept and 'one China' principle.
Although exchanges at the governmental level were limited, Mr Yang said he felt the Hong Kong community had always been very friendly to Taiwan and the Taiwan side was making increasing efforts to strengthen ties.
Last year, NT$100 million (HK$24.5 million) was provided for Chung Hwa Travel Service operations, NT$13 million more than the year before, despite the total budget for the whole Mainland Affairs Council shrinking.
The budget for Hong Kong affairs amounted to about a seventh of the total budget for mainland affairs.
Ninety people work at the de facto consulate, including 70 from Hong Kong.
'This size is perhaps comparable only to consulates of big countries like the United States and Canada,' Mr Yang said.
He said he had worked out proposals for simplifying the procedures for Hong Kong people travelling to Taiwan but declined to disclose details just yet.