Hong Kong handover: Taiwan stays in tune with HK

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The Independent Online
Contrary to all expectation, Hong Kong's reversion to Chinese rule has produced closer ties between the former colony and Taiwan, which China regards as a renegade province. This is despite the fact that on Thursday Taiwan's President Lee Teng-hui adamantly turned down the suggestion that Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule could provide a model for Taiwan's return to the mainland.

Not only has Peking allowed the establishment of direct liaison with Hong Kong's new Special Administrative Region (SAR) government but Taiwan has silently upgraded its representation in the territory by making Cheng An-kuo, its senior official in Hong Kong, the head of a new Hong Kong Affairs Council which will supervise the work of all Taiwan entities in the SAR. The new council will report to the Mainland Affairs Council, instead of the foreign ministry, which indicates that it has a higher status than the three Hong Kong- based bodies which have been working through the foreign ministry.

While President Lee was speaking to journalists in Taipei, Hong Kong's Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa was having a meeting with Koo Chen-fu, the head of Taiwan's semi-official body which is involved in talks on Chinese reunification.

Yesterday Susie Chiang, the director of the Kwang Hwa Information Centre, supposedly Taiwan's main cultural institution in Hong Kong, said she has few concerns about the status of Taiwanese institutions in the SAR. "We will stay and have the same status," she said. "Peking has made it clear that everything will remain the same, until Peking feels it's about time to talk."

Hong Kong has served as the main link between China and Taiwan since the Chinese Revolution in 1949. There had been suggestions that China would use the establishment of the SAR to put pressure on Taiwan to create more direct links with the mainland, such as direct shipping and air route. This could easily be done by cracking down on the transit links currently operating in Hong Kong.

Mrs Chiang said: "I don't think direct links can succeed in the near future because Taiwan is holding back. Hong Kong still has a role as a stepping stone."

Mr Tung has appointed Paul Yip, his special adviser, as the link man with Taiwan. Mr Yip, who has a background in Hong Kong's leftist organisations, is widely viewed as Mr Tung's main political adviser. He met Taiwan's Mr Koo alongside Mr Tung and has held discreet meetings with him in recent weeks.

China has been sending out confusing signals about these contacts between Hong Kong and Taiwan. On Thursday, the foreign ministry spokesman Tang Guoquiang said that all official contacts had to be reported to Peking for approval but yesterday the ministry said that contacts between Hong Kong and Taiwan fell into a special category, apart from foreign affairs, and therefore did not nec- essarily require approval from central government. China has repeatedly stressed its desire for reunification with Taiwan in the past few days but had not been expected to foster this objective through the new Hong Kong administration.