Many world leaders sign up to the lucrative international speaking circuit after leaving office but Taiwan’s Ma Ying-jeou may struggle to join them after his first overseas engagement since relinquishing power was blocked by his successor.
The office of new president Tsai Ing-wen revealed on Sunday that it had refused Mr Ma permission to travel to Hong Kong to give a speech on cross-strait relations because of concerns about security in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
Senior officials in Taiwan must get approval for overseas travel for three years after they have left office, according to regulations in the self-governing island, which Beijing claims as a province of China.
The incident highlights the sensitivities surrounding cross-strait relations, which have heightened since the swearing-in last month of Ms Tsai, whose Democratic Progressive party is keen to emphasise the separateness of Taiwan.
“Going to Hong Kong, which is part of China, is sensitive, so this could be caution on the part of the government,” said Bruce Jacobs, an expert on Taiwan at Monash University in Melbourne. “But it could also be [political] payback. We should be careful about making a sweeping conclusion.”
Ms Tsai is caught between her more radical supporters, who want to see Taiwan move towards formal independence, and the powerful Chinese government, which has threatened to invade if that ever happens.
Mr Ma had been scheduled to speak at an awards dinner on Wednesday hosted by the Society of Publishers in Asia, of which the Financial Times is a member. He will now give his talk by video conference instead.
During two terms as President, Mr Ma championed closer economic and political ties with Beijing, securing a historic meeting with Xi Jinping, his Chinese counterpart, in November.
But this policy proved extremely unpopular, prompting a student protest movement and a landslide victory for Ms Tsai and the DPP in January’s elections.
A spokesman for the presidential office said on Sunday that Mr Ma’s trip had been blocked because he was in command of a substantial amount of classified information and Taiwan’s national security bureau had no precedent of working with its counterparts in Hong Kong.
China does not recognise Taiwan’s national government so there are no official state-to-state negotiations between the two. When Mr Ma and Mr Xi met last year in Singapore, they referred to each as “Mr” rather than “President”.
Mr Ma’s party, the opposition Kuomintang, attacked the decision to stop him visiting Hong Kong, saying the government was merely using state security as an “excuse” to thwart Mr Ma.
The dispute over his cancelled trip to Hong Kong highlights how far Taiwan has moved away from Beijing’s hopes that it will one day become a special administrative region of China under the “one country, two systems” arrangement in place with Hong Kong.
该事件凸显了围绕两岸关系的敏感情绪，自上月蔡英文宣誓就职以来，这种敏感情绪进一步加强。蔡英文所在的民进党(Democratic Progressive party)热衷于强调台湾与中国大陆的分离。
“香港是中国的一部分，前往香港较为敏感，因此这可能是台湾政府表现出的一种谨慎，”墨尔本莫纳什大学(Monash University)台湾问题专家布鲁斯?雅各布斯(Bruce Jacobs)表示，“但这也可能是（政治）报复。我们应该小心避免做出笼统的结论。”