Taiwan’s China-suspicious government has barred former president Ma Ying-jeou from a visit to Hong Kong, citing security reasons and too little contact with authorities on the other side.
Current President Tsai Ing-wen’s office said Sunday six agencies had met twice during the past week to consider the travel plans of Ma, who stepped down May 20, and who planned to give a speech at a Hong Kong journalism awards ceremony of The Society of Publishers in Asia.
The agencies turned down the trip that would have taken place 27 days after Ma left office because the former leader knew state secrets and other “high-level” classified information the former leader knew about, the president’s office says in a statement. There is no precedent for this kind of request, the statement adds.
The rejection of Ma’s travel request marks the strongest statement Tsai has made as president against China and her island’s chief opposition Nationalist Party, which backed Ma in office.
FILE - Tsai Ing-wen, announces that Lin Chuan is her choice for premier at their Democratic Progressive Party headquarters in Taipei, March 15, 2016.
“Evaluating this case is based on the importance of the former president on national security, the unusualness of the case and its sensitivity,” presidential office spokesman Huang Chung-yen says. “Ex-president Ma’s contact with state secrets was huge. These state secrets and other high-level confidential information are important because he stepped down less than a month ago.”
Hong Kong is also a “highly sensitive region,” the statement adds. It’s a territory of China, which has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s.
China insists that the two eventually unify, despite public opinion surveys in Taiwan indicating people on the Asian island prefer today’s degree of autonomy.
Ma built a name, after taking office in 2008, on opening dialogue with Beijing and treating it as an economic partner. Tsai takes a more cautious view and unlike Ma rejects Beijing’s precondition for talks requiring that each side see itself as part of one China.
The ex-president's travel plan came too quickly for the current government to discuss the item with authorities in Hong Kong or mainland China, the government statement says.
Ma’s party accused Tsai government of a “double standard” in rejecting the travel plan. Tsai’s government let another former president, Chen Shui-bian, attend a political dinner earlier this month in Taipei while serving a graft sentence, the Nationalists noted. Both Tsai and Chen are backed by the Democratic Progressive Party.
“The Democratic Progressive Party government to first let... former president Chen Shui-bian attend a dinner party, inciting some debate, then today to block a totally transparent trip by former president Ma creates a ‘criminal can creep out, but a law abider’s freedom is restricted’ situation,” party spokesman Chou Chih-wei said in a statement.