Home affairs minister's Taiwan visit to go ahead

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 September, 2009, 12:00am

Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing will visit Taiwan for the closing of the Deaflympics, despite cancellation or postponement of tours by mainland officials and city cadres because of the Dalai Lama's trip to the island.

The Dalai Lama completed a mission to comfort typhoon victims in southern Taiwan on Wednesday.

Professor Emile Sheng Chi-jen, chief executive of the organising committee for the 21st Summer Deaflympics Taipei 2009, said Tsang was scheduled to arrive in Taipei on September 13, and had agreed to attend the closing ceremony of the Games on September 15.

Tsang said: 'I am prepared to go, but I haven't received an invitation card from Taiwan yet. They must be busy.'

Sheng, a former Taipei city government official, said: 'Hong Kong's participation in the event is not affected [by recent developments in cross-strait ties]. The home affairs minister will also visit the city government during his trip. The city government is working out the details.'

A spokeswoman for Hong Kong's Home Affairs Bureau, without confirming or denying the plan, said it was 'considering the arrangements'.

An academic who studies cross-strait relationships said the plan demonstrated that Hong Kong enjoyed higher flexibility in exchanges with Taiwan than mainland municipal governments, which had to follow Beijing strictly.

The minister was invited by Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin to attend the opening of the Games when the latter visited Hong Kong in June.

Sheng said Tsang would attend the closing ceremony instead because his schedule would not allow him to take part in the opening.

The mainland athletics team to the Games confirmed on Monday that it would not attend the opening tomorrow because it could not 'make it in time'. Some mainland officials have also changed their visit plans since the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader started his tour of Taiwan on Sunday. Among them are Nanjing party secretary Zhu Shanlu, who has postponed a trade-related trip to the island, and Shanghai party standing committee member Yang Xiaodu, who has cited health reasons for cancelling his visit but sent lower-ranking officials to represent him.

At the central government level, People's Bank of China deputy governor Su Ning has postponed a trip 'for technical reasons'.

Professor Timothy Wong Ka-ying, associate director of the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies at Chinese University of Hong Kong, said Tsang's trip was a sign that Beijing had given approval for the special administrative region to develop close communications with Taiwan.

'Hong Kong's presence would not be that politically sensitive,' Wong said. 'While visits by Nanjing and Shanghai officials have been called to a halt, Hong Kong officials can still go. This means the central government does not want to see the cross-strait relationship worsening.'

The Taiwan tour will be Tsang's second since he took office. In March, he became the city's first principal official to visit the island since the handover, when he joined the World Buddhist Forum as the head of a 100-strong religious delegation.

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Stephen Lam Sui-lung then visited Taipei in his official capacity in June.