Following is a question by the Hon Alan Leong Ka Kit and an oral reply by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, in the Legislative Council today (January 14):
On November 4 last year, the authorities of the Mainland and Taiwan signed four cross-strait agreements on maritime, air and postal links as well as food safety and, as a result, both passenger and cargo traffic between the two places no longer have to go via Hong Kong. Moreover, cross-strait tension has eased recently. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) whether the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs had taken part in the discussions on the implementation details of the above agreements, and of the role of the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) in the discussions; if the Secretary was involved in the discussions, what suggestions the HKSAR Government had made to safeguard the interests of Hong Kong; if the Secretary was not involved, of the reasons for that; and
(b) given that presently Taiwanese residents are required to hold valid visas for visiting Hong Kong, and HKSAR passport holders visiting Taiwan are required to comply with similar requirement, whether the HKSAR Government has, in view of the recent improvement in cross-strait relations, discussed with the Taiwanese authorities arrangements for mutual abolition of visa requirements?
(a) Under the "One Country, Two Systems" principle, generally we do not participate in bilateral negotiations between the Mainland and other economies in areas such as trade and economic affairs, civil aviation and shipping etc. In accordance with the Basic Law and authorisation by the Central Authorities, the HKSAR will handle on our own arrangements between Hong Kong and other economies in areas such as trade and economic affairs, civil aviation and shipping etc. Therefore, the HKSAR has not participated in the bilateral discussions on the "Three Direct Links" between the authorities of both sides of the Strait. However, we have all along been assessing the impact which the "Three Direct Links" might have on Hong Kong (including civil aviation and shipping etc) and have reflected our views to the Central Authorities.
Over the years, Hong Kong and Taiwan have built up a solid relationship in trade and economic affairs. Taiwan is the fourth largest trading partner of Hong Kong. We are confident that the Basic Law has already endowed Hong Kong with sufficient autonomy in continuing to develop our relationship with Taiwan in these regards. The HKSAR will continue to take a proactive and constructive approach in fostering economic and other ties between Hong Kong and Taiwan, and to strengthen our position as the international financial, trading and maritime centre in the region.
Accordingly, the HKSAR Government has implemented a number of measures, including:
* The Trade Development Council has set up an office in Taipei. This has been in operation since last October. This is the very first time we set up a sub-office of a Hong Kong statutory body in Taiwan. This is a critical step, signifying the importance we attach to the long term development of the relationship between Hong Kong and Taiwan.
* We are preparing for the establishment of a Hong Kong-Taiwan Business Cooperation Committee. The Committee will comprise representatives of the industrial and business sectors. This is a bilateral parallel structure.
* We will establish the Hong Kong-Taiwan Inter-City Forum to discuss issues related to economic and trade development, tourism, city management etc. We have attained consensus on this with the Mayor of Taichung City. The first Forum will be held in Hong Kong in a few months' time.
(b) The HKSAR Government from time to time reviews its policy on visa/permit requirements. Suitable adjustment to the policy will be made in the light of changes in circumstances, taking into account various factors such as reciprocity, immigration control and security considerations, the circumstances of individual country or territory, etc.
On January 1, 2009, the Immigration Department introduced two measures to further enhance the immigration facilitation for Taiwan residents, including (i) lifting the restriction that only two iPermits can be applied within 30 days; and (ii) extending the period of stay in Hong Kong for holders of iPermits and multiple-entry permits from 14 days to 30 days.
The HKSAR Government welcomes any immigration arrangements that would provide greater convenience to residents of Hong Kong and Taiwan. We will also keep an open mind on any exchanges of views on the subject with the Taiwan authorities.
Ends/Wednesday, January 14, 2009