Newly-elected Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu is seen with Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Photo: Handout

Taiwanese officials in charge of relations with China have joined a chorus of criticism against Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu, who is now on a high-profile visit to mainland Chinese cities.

Han, a rising star in the island’s opposition Kuomintang party who shot to fame after a landslide victory in last year’s Kaohsiung mayoral election, is tipped as a KMT contender in the 2020 presidential race.

Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second-largest city, used to be a bastion for the ruling, independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party . The fact that Han, an advocate of the “one China” principle, was able to win a mayoral poll held in a DPP stronghold has instantly made him a presidential candidate backed by Beijing. The VIP escort and reception that Hong Kong, Macau and Shenzhen have accorded to Han are also indicative of Beijing’s high hopes for the up-and-coming Taiwanese politician.

Yet Han, still riding a popularity wave, has come under fire for his tête-à-tête style talks and dinners with high-ranking Chinese officials in Hong Kong, Macau and Shenzhen over the past weekend, after the itinerary issued ahead of his trip failed to mention the politically-charged meetings.

Han dined with Beijing’s top envoys in Hong Kong and Macau and also met Liu Jieyi, director of the Chinese State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office, in Shenzhen on Monday.

Han (fourth from left) met with Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam and attended a lunch hosted by Lam on Friday. Photo: Handout
Han and other members of the Kaohsiung delegation tour Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor. Photo: Facebook
Han meets with Liu Jieyi, head of the Chinese State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office in Shenzhen. Photo: Handout

Han owes an explanation to the public, said Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, after he rubbed shoulders with many senior Chinese officials and party cadres, causing considerable concern among the Taiwanese.

Han’s meeting on Friday with Wang Zhimin, head of Beijing’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong after a lunch with the city’s leader Carrie Lam, caught many by surprise as it was not included in the itinerary that Han’s office released before he departed Kaohsiung.

Wang reportedly extolled Han’s patriotism and expanded on how Taiwan could benefit from Beijing’s offer of “one country, two systems”.

The hours-long talk between Han and Wang behind closed doors stoked speculation that Han could have tacitly endorsed Beijing’s “one country, two systems” formula currently in place in Hong Kong and Macau, which is also intended for Taiwan to realize reunification. Some critics said Han lacked the political prudence in deciding who to meet in Hong Kong, as Hong Kong and Taiwan affairs were always intertwined.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong lawmakers who are members of the city’s pan-democratic bloc have also slammed Han’s meeting with Wang.

Taiwan’s central government stressed that mayors and other regional officials entering into political negotiations with Chinese cadres and signing deals without prior authorization may overstep the authority of the Mainland Affairs Council, and in doing so break laws.

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, who is currently visiting the island’s allies in the South Pacific region, told reporters that Han must report to the central government about who he met in China.

Han is leading a 28-member delegation on a visit to Hong Kong, Macau and the Chinese cities of Shenzhen and Xiamen to promote trade, tourism and investment, according to his aides.

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