Beijing-friendly Taiwanese mayor Han Kuo-yu arrives in HK for historic meeting

23-Mar-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

The new Beijing-friendly mayor of Taiwan’s third-largest city has arrived in Hong Kong for a rare visit to meet with top officials and promote trade.

Han Kuo-yu, a star in Taiwan’s opposition Kuomintang (KMT), was expected to have a historic meeting with Wang Zhimin, the director of Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor met with Han and hosted a lunch for him at government House on Friday. Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip Tak-kuen, and Undersecretary for Commerce and Economic Development Bernard Chan Pak-li were also present.

It was the first time the city’s leader had met a mayor from Taiwan since June 2014, when then chief executive Leung Chun-ying met visiting Taipei mayor Hau Lung-bin at government House.

During their meeting, Lam said Hong Kong and Taiwan have frequent trade, economic and people-to-people exchanges, and called the two places major trading partners and sources of tourists for each other.

Hong Kong’s leader also said she would welcome more high-quality agricultural and fisheries products to be exported from Kaohsiung to Hong Kong, or re-exported via Hong Kong to other places in the future.

Han arrived in the city at 9.13am and dozens of journalists from Hong Kong, Taiwan and foreign media outlets were waiting for him as he and his delegation left Hong Kong International Airport about an hour later. He did not speak to them.

Roy Tang Yun-kwong, the top civil servant from the Hong Kong government’s Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau, and Lam Lung-on, president of the Hong Kong Chinese Importers’ and Exporters’ Association, were at the airport to greet him.

About 30 local and Taiwanese members of the KMT’s local support groups, carrying small replicas of the Taiwan flag, also came to welcome him.

“Good morning, mayor,” they chanted affectionately.

Han boarded a tour bus after greeting his supporters.

Two of his supporters carried placards calling for him to run in next year’s presidential election in Taiwan.

“For our international airports, Kaohsiung’s debts and free trade, run for the presidency,” one of the placards read.

Tommy Chang Juo-ming, a trader who left Kaohsiung 30 years ago to work in Hong Kong, said he hoped Han could be the island’s next leader.

“He’s our hope,” he said. “Kaohsiung was very quiet before he won, now there have been a lot more tourists already. I hope he can revive Taiwan as well.”

May Cheung, a Hong Kong woman also came with a doll made in the image of Han.

“I admire him because he’s a very capable and eloquent man, and he won the election last year,” she said.

Before leaving Taiwan, Han told local media that Hong Kong and the three other Chinese cities he is visiting Macau, Shenzhen and Xiamen are very important to Kaohsiung.

Asked if he believe that the Hong Kong government had followed the highest level of protocol in welcoming him, Han said: “I don’t know. But if it was the highest level, I’d feel sorry because I don’t deserve that.”

He said he just wanted to promote his city so that “the whole world can see Kaohsiung”.

The mayor added that Southeast Asian countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia are also important targets of his campaign to promote trade.

Some Taiwanese media had previously reported that Liu Jieyi, director of Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office, would come from Beijing to meet Han in Xiamen.

But Han declined to comment on that, and said he would respect whatever arrangements had been made by mainland authorities.

Taiwan is luring companies back from China after more than 15 years of trying

Han previously said economic matters would be the focus of his trip, but commentators said the visit underlined Hong Kong’s crucial role in the cross-strait relationship.

Analysts said the trip could help promote Beijing’s “one country, two systems” principle, even though the governing system had not been recognised by the KMT as a solution to the Taiwan question. Under the principle, Hong Kong was guaranteed a high degree of autonomy after it was returned from Britain in 1997.

Han was expected to attend Friday’s signing of an agreement between the Hong Kong Chinese Importers’ and Exporters’ Association, and business groups from Taiwan. He was also expected to meet property tycoon Robert Ng Chee Siong, chair of Sino Group.

In 2017, Taiwan was Hong Kong’s third-largest trading partner. Trade between the two economies that year reached HK$419 billion (US$53.3 billion), with Hong Kong mostly importing electrical machinery and agricultural products from the island.

Kaohsiung’s major exports to Hong Kong included fruit, vegetables, fish and other produce.

The arrival of Han, along with a delegation of about 30 politicians and businesspeople, came four months after he gained fame for an upset win in the mayoral race for Kaohsiung, a stronghold of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and a major port in southern Taiwan. The trading hub has a population of 2.8 million.

In the past, Han has declared his support for the “1992 consensus” the understanding between unofficial representatives of Beijing and Taipei that there is only “one China” but that each side can have its own interpretation of what constitutes China. The 1992 consensus model between mainland China and Taiwan was suspended when the DPP came to power in 2016.

Han will travel to Macau on Saturday across the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge. He will also visit Shenzhen, mainland China’s technology hub, and Xiamen before returning to Kaohsiung on Thursday.


Category: Hong Kong

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