My Take

Decision to bar Ma Ying-jeou from visiting Hong Kong a slap in the face for democracy in Taiwan

Island’s new leader Tsai Ing-wen’s administration has given absurd reasons for denying his request to speak at – how ironic! – media awards ceremony

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 June, 2016, 10:36pm
UPDATED : Monday, 13 June, 2016, 10:36pm

Beijing went berserk when Tsai Ing-wen delivered her inauguration speech as Taiwan’s new president without mentioning the “1992 consensus”, the basis of a tacit cross-strait understanding that acknowledges there is only “one China”.

For that, many critics in Hong Kong and overseas have rounded on Beijing for being a bully. Now, it increasingly looks like its suspicions about Tsai are justified.

Taipei rejects former Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou’s request to visit Hong Kong

Her predecessor Ma Ying-jeou, former head of the more Beijing-friendly Kuomintang, had barely left office when her government decided to humiliate him by barring him from visiting Hong Kong to attend an award presentation event with the Society of Publishers in Asia (Sopa). Ma was scheduled to speak on cross-strait and East Asian relations at the dinner ceremony tomorrow night.

Among the absurd reasons cited for the rejection are: the request was made at short notice; the lack of security arrangements between Taiwan and Hong Kong; and the danger of security leaks because Ma has not been properly debriefed by the new government.

Besides rubbing salt on open wounds, Tsai’s office says Ma can always take part in the ceremony via video conferencing. Do her aides seriously think Ma might be in danger of being kidnapped or otherwise voluntarily spill the beans on Taiwan’s government secrets in Hong Kong?

While her government legally has the power to do so, banning Ma from coming to Hong Kong is just vindictive and small-minded. It also looks more like giving the finger to Beijing.

The KMT is all for enhancing further trade and pursuing stable relations with the Chinese mainland.

Tsai’s commitment to such goals is equivocal. Many supporters of her Democratic Progressive Party advocate the opposite. Ma has been popular in Hong Kong, having at one point earned the moniker “the housewives’ killer” for his supposed good looks and charm.

The new president obviously does not want to have someone who may still be perceived as representing Taiwan steal the limelight or advocating stances contrary to her policies or unstated agendas.

This is unfortunate. Ma’s office said the decision made Taiwan look bad around the world. Quite.

Sopa’s awards are among Asia’s most prestigious, and the society has long advocated open media and press freedom. How ironic that a democracy has banned its own former leader from attending a pan-Asian media event.