Ma Blocked from Hong Kong: Security Risk or Political Football?

Ma Blocked from Hong Kong: Security Risk or Political Football?
Photo Credit: Reuters/達志影像

What you need to know

The Tsai administration has rejected former president Ma’s application to travel to Hong Kong, inciting finger-pointing from both sides of Taiwan’s politics.

The Presidential Office has rejected former president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) application to visit Hong Kong this week to give a speech at an awards ceremony.

Existing Taiwanese regulations restrict the international travel of former officials with the highest security clearances, and requires them to obtain government permission before they can leave the country.

A special task force set up to review Ma's applicationrejected the application on Sunday.

In a press release, the Presidential Office gave several reasons for the decision. As the former president has only been out of office for a month, the information he accessed while in office is still sensitive, it said. Given the security risks in Hong Kong, the lack of previous cooperation with local authorities and the short notice of the trip, arrangements with the authorities in Hong Kong could not be made, the government said.

Ma was expected to speak at the Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA) awards ceremony on Wednesday. A SOPA press release expressed the organization's disappointment with Ma's inability to attend in person, but has arranged for a video link for him to address the gala dinner.

Ma’s office said the decision was not persuasive and questioned whether rejecting the application was necessary. It claimed the decision was disrespectful to the former head of state and that it damaged the reputation of Taiwan’s freedom and democracy.

Political reactions

Kuomintang (KMT) caucus whip Lin Te-fu (林德福) said the Presidential Office’s decision was politically motivated, the Central News Agency reports. Lin said he doubted Ma could leak classified information while delivering a public speech in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile Tsai Cheng-yuan (蔡正元), the KMT Central Policy Committee director, wrote in a Facebook post that the decision forced Taiwan to miss out on a major public relations opportunity, listing some of the major media outlets present at the awards ceremony such as Time Magazine and the New York Times. In his usual hyperbole, Tsai compared the Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) administration’s restrictions on Ma's freedom of movement under the auspices of national security to actions by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

In response to the complaints, members from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and New Power Party (NPP) members fired back.

Presidential Office spokesperson Alex Huang (黃重諺) said the former president was over-politicizing the situation. “Overly political interpretations of the case do not help the discussion in a meaningful way,” the Liberty Times quoted him as saying. Huang said the final decision was made after discussions with several government agencies.

The China Review News Agency meanwhile reports that DPP Legislator Tsai Yi-yu (蔡易餘) was pleased with the decision. Ma’s visit to Hong Kong, the legislator said, was only meant to challenge President Tsai’s new administration, and therefore the Presidential Office was justified in turning down the request.

In a Facebook post, NPP Legislator Hsu Yung-ming (徐永明) accused Ma of using the application to pick a fight with the DPP. Hsu argued that Ma could have foreseen his application would be rejected due to security concerns, but was now using it as a tool to tarnish the DPP's image.