TAIPEI: Taiwan’s new government on Sunday refused former president Ma Ying-jeou permission to visit Hong Kong, citing national security considerations, sparking an angry response from his party.
Ma, who stepped down on May 20 after eight years, applied to the presidential office early this month for permission to make a trip on June 15 to the semi-autonomous southern Chinese city.
He was to deliver a keynote speech at the Society of Publishers in Asia awards.
Ma, an advocate of rapprochement between Taiwan and China, was to have spoken about cross-strait relations and the Northeast Asia situation, according to his office.
But the office of new President Tsai Ing-wen, from the China-skeptic Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), rejected his application, which was reviewed by a special panel grouping senior officials from various government agencies.
The DPP trounced Ma’s Kuomintang party in presidential and parliamentary elections in January.
“The presidential office has decided not to approve the former president’s application,” Tsai’s spokesman Alex Huang told reporters.
Huang termed Ma’s application as “sensitive,” “unique” and “crucial in a national security perspective.”
“The former president had been in charge of or in contact with massive amounts of top state secrets, and the plan came about less than a month after his retirement,” Huang said.
“Hong Kong has been a highly sensitive area considered from Taiwan’s national security point of view,” he said, adding Ma must respect a state secrets law introduced in 2003.
Ma’s office strongly condemned the decision, saying the purpose of the planned trip was transparent. The suggestion that secrets might be leaked “is disrespectful of a retired president and has damaged the international image of Taiwan’s freedom and democracy”.
While the DPP urged Ma “to look at and accept this decision in a rational manner”, the Kuomintang accused the new government of using a “ridiculous” excuse to block Ma’s trip.
Ma was born in Hong Kong in 1950 to parents from the Chinese mainland. That has become something of a political handicap as Taiwan started to develop a more pronounced sense of its own identity.
China and Taiwan split in 1949 after the Kuomintang lost a civil war on the mainland to the communists and fled to the island.
Beijing still considers the island part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.
Tensions eased markedly and 21 agreements between the two former bitter rivals were signed during Ma’s tenure.
But public sentiment in Taiwan has recently turned against closer ties with Beijing, with voters saying trade deals have been agreed in secret and not benefited ordinary citizens.
Ties have become frosty since Tsai won Taiwan’s presidential election as Beijing does not trust her independence-leaning party.
Chinese leaders have repeatedly offer to reunite Taiwan with the mainland using the “One country, two systems” adopted to re-integrate Hong Kong and Macau.
The proposal has been flatly rejected by Taiwan.
China last month warned Tsai against seeking independence, cautioning that peace would be impossible if she made any moves to formally break away.
The remarks came just hours after her inauguration speech struck a conciliatory note, calling for a “positive dialogue” with China. AFP