A prominent Taiwanese political critic and a senior officer at a semi-official cultural group headed by Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen was refused entry to Hong Kong on Wednesday.
Chang Tieh-chih, also former chief editor of Hong Kong’s popular lifestyle and cultural monthly City Magazine, broke the news on Wednesday afternoon with a message on his Twitter account: “Finally, I was denied entry at the Hong Kong airport.”
But he wrote that his wife, Amy Cui, was allowed to enter. Cui is a Hong Kong resident. “I watched as my wife passed through,” he wrote on Twitter.
A source with knowledge of the matter said he was denied entry as his dependent visa had expired.
In a Facebook message posted on his return to Taiwan on Wednesday evening, Chang said he had plans to come to Hong Kong for a cultural exchange conference but was told his travel document had expired and that an online application for a landing visa was rejected.
He claimed he was used to using his Hong Kong identity card to visit Hong Kong but this time was told his card had expired. ““I tried to apply for a landing visa online at the Hong Kong airport but the application was rejected,” Chang wrote on Facebook page. “I thought I might have filled in some information improperly and I filled the form again but still [the application] was rejected.”
He claimed he had asked an immigration officer and was told “not everyone’s application can be successful”. He added: “So, I could only return to Taiwan.”
He expressed “deep regret” and said he was still looking forward to seeing “more freedom and normal exchange” between Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Chang has been vocal in supporting democracy campaigns and social movements.
A spokesman for the Immigration Department of Hong Kong said it would not comment on individual cases.
“In handling each immigration application, the Immigration Department will consider all the factors and circumstances related to the application so as to decide whether an individual application is approved or not in accordance with the Hong Kong law and prevailing immigration polices,” the spokesman said in a statement.
Chang said he was coming to Hong Kong for the City-to-City Cultural Exchange Conference.
Organised this year by the Hong Kong Institute of Contemporary Culture, the forum is a gathering of cultural sector workers, officials and academics from Taipei, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Shenzhen, with the cities taking turns to host the event.
Taipei is usually represented at the forum by a member of The General Association of Chinese Culture (GACC), of which Chang is the deputy general secretary. The head of GACC is Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen, of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
The GACC was founded in 1967 by late Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek to promote a revival of Chinese culture on the mainland. The association has always been headed by either an incumbent Taiwan leader or someone appointed by him or her.
The association itself took the centre-stage of a political brouhaha earlier this year (2017) when there were speculations that Tsai could rename the association by removing the word “Chinese”, and replace it with the word “National”.
When Taiwan’s former president Chen Shui-bian, also of DPP, was in power from the 2000 to 2008, the word “Chinese” was removed from the name of the association, but the word was restored after Liu Chao-shiuan became the president of the association in 2010 with the approval of Taiwan’s former leader Ma Ying-jeou.
Chang worked at City Magazine in Hong Kong between 2012 and 2015. His op-ed pieces also appeared on many major newspapers and magazines of both sides of the strait as well as the Chinese websites of The New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
Hong Kong lawmaker Dr Kwok Ka-ki, of the opposition Civic Party, said he was shocked to learn of the news and said he had written to Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, demanding an explanation.
“Chang holds no government post and is not a member of any political party,” Dr Kwok. “His wife is a Hong Kong resident and he had worked in Hong Kong for long time. He can be said to be a half-Hongkonger. This hurts Hong Kong’s international image.”
Kwok believed Chang might have written something in the past that had angered Beijing.
A source familiar with the matter said that although Chang’s wife is a Hong Kong resident and Chang holds Hong Kong identity card, he is not a permanent resident and has to renew his dependent visa from time to time.
“He was not allowed to leave the gate at the e-channel because his visa has expired,” the source said.
“Immigration staff asked if he had any other valid travel documents. He displayed a [Republic of China] passport, but it is not regarded as a valid travel document because he did not have a mainland travel permit for a Taiwan resident. He also did not register online before travelling to Hong Kong.”
The source said he was then transferred to the airline to see if the carrier could help him with the travel documents but the airline decided to send him back to Taiwan.
“That is what an airline should do when a passenger failed to show any valid travel document to enter a place,” the source said.
In October, the Hong Kong government also stepped into a storm of controversy after barring leading British human rights activist and vocal critic of China’s erosion of Hong Kong’s political freedoms, Benedict Rogers, from entering the city.
Rogers, who had lived in Hong Kong from 1997 to 2002, is the deputy chair of the Conservatives’ human rights commission. He claimed he was on a private visit to see friends.
Last year, Freddy Lim Chang-zuo, of the pro-independence New Power Party and a member of the Taiwan parliament, was also not issued a travel visa to Hong Kong. Lim at that time said Hong Kong’s freedom was being eroded quickly.