How Hong Kong can help to further cross-strait relations

Sonny Lo says as host of a 2014 Apec gathering, Hong Kong can help bring about a historic meeting between Xi Jinping and Ma Ying-jeou

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 October, 2013, 10:20pm

Next September, the Apec finance ministers' meeting will be held in Hong Kong as China plays host. The gathering presents a golden opportunity for a breakthrough in Beijing-Taipei relations and Hong Kong can play a crucial role.

Last Sunday, President Xi Jinping met Taiwan's envoy and former vice-president, Vincent Siew, at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Bali, and expressed his desire for closer relations. Then, Wang Yu-chi, head of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, met Zhang Zhijun , head of Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office, on the summit sidelines. Both men reportedly referred to each other by their official titles for the first time.

Taiwan experts in Beijing have advised the mainland government that the 2014 date would perhaps be right for a meeting between Xi and Ma Ying-jeou, Taiwan's president. However, a number of obstacles would first need to be cleared.

First, the People's Republic asserts that it is the sole and legitimate government of China, which includes Taiwan, while Taiwan claims it is the legitimate government on the island. So, how the two leaders are addressed would be a technical but controversial issue.

One option is to call Ma "the Taiwan leader". But whether this would be acceptable to the Taiwan side remains uncertain. Another option is to see Ma as "the Chinese friend" who was born in Hong Kong - but it's unclear whether this would be acceptable to both sides.

Second, both sides will need to decide what issues to discuss. Since 2009, Beijing and Taipei have accelerated economic and cultural interactions, plus cross-strait crime control. Arguably, 2014 would be a good time for political dialogue ahead of the 2016 presidential elections in Taiwan.

Ma's unpopularity means that the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party may well have a chance of winning in 2016. Thus, it is imperative for Beijing to accelerate political dialogue with Ma.


The political will of both sides will be paramount. A meeting between Xi and Ma - particularly one that would bring about an unprecedented economic, if not political, union - would be applauded by Chinese the world over. Ma's government has adopted a very cautious attitude towards Beijing, and as a result, political dialogue has been postponed indefinitely.

Arguably, a Xi-Ma meeting would boost the popularity of the Kuomintang, which is currently plagued by internal fighting between Ma's supporters and the faction backing legislative speaker Wang Jin-pyng.

Whether a memorandum of understanding on peace or an agreement on joint military liaison can be reached, a breakthrough meeting between Xi and Ma would build trust. Another potential issue for discussion is how Taiwan could participate more in international organisations and enjoy its international space. That would boil down to negotiating an acceptable formal name for Taiwan, or finding an innovative solution that would bring the two sides together.

In all this, Hong Kong can play a vital role in bridging the political gap between Beijing and Taipei.

Sonny Lo is professor and head of the department of social sciences at the Hong Kong Institute of Education