"Sell goods! Welcome people! Prosperous Kaohsiung!"
This was the viral campaign slogan for Han Kuo-yu, the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party candidate who, against all odds, won a landslide victory in last November's mayoral election in Kaohsiung, for decades a stronghold of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which has rebuffed any talk of Taiwan's reunification with mainland China.
Over the weekend, Hongkongers saw Han doing his part to fulfil that election promise during a whirlwind visit to the city, which will be followed by trips to Macau, Shenzhen and Xiamen.
Han's short stay here was significant as he was the first Taiwanese official to make the trip since pro-independence President Tsai Ing-wen took office in 2016, prompting Beijing to scrap all official cross-strait exchanges, including those between Hong Kong and Taiwan. Even more significantly, Han enjoys higher popularity ratings than Tsai, and is seen as the KMT's likely presidential hopeful for next year's election.
An intriguing aspect of the phenomenon described as the "Han wave" by Taiwan's media was that he was never afraid of losing the support of pro-DPP voters in such a "deep green" city " referring to the party's symbolic colour " by openly recognising the One China Consensus of 1992, which is the bottom line for Beijing in conducting any cross-strait communication.
With his personal charm and down-to-earth demeanour, Han has also established himself as an impartial politician when it comes to matters relating to citizens' livelihoods and a leader who will do his best for Kaohsiung and its people, regardless of party affiliation or ideology.
His critics gave him credit for the simple yet catchy and powerful campaign slogan focusing on the twin planks of trade and tourism.
Han was well aware of the political significance and sensitive timing of his visit to Hong Kong, as it coincided with Tsai's Pacific tour to meet Taiwan's few remaining diplomatic allies, which ends with a transit in Hawaii. Beijing has strongly objected to Washington's decision regarding that stopover on American soil, painting it as tantamount to creating "two Chinas".
With that in mind, Han deliberately and deftly played down the political implications by projecting himself as a super salesman on a mission to sell Kaohsiung's quality agricultural produce and its many tourist attractions.
He was happy to meet Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, which was arranged by Beijing's liaison office, and also held talks with Wang Zhimin, the central government's top man in Hong Kong.
"I'm the guest; a guest should suit the convenience of the host," was his simple explanation earlier, citing a Chinese saying, to anyone trying to read more into the meetings.
He could suit the convenience of the host in more ways, though.
Beijing, which decides Hong Kong's official interactions with Taiwan, is obviously hoping he will have something to take away from his first-hand look at the city's "one country, two systems" governing formula, which was originally designed for Taiwan. And in the longer run, Beijing expects Han to help with the reunification drive.
But his enthusiasm for economic and trade issues while staying clear of political talk made it clear that he had his own agenda: economy first.
Han once described the Taiwan-mainland relationship as a "prenatal betrothal", and Taiwan-US ties as a matter of "friends first, marriage later". He was rebuked by Tsai's office and warned that cross-strait affairs were the prerogative of the president, not a mayor.
However, he is smart enough to understand that without a "prosperous Kaohsiung", or a "prosperous Taiwan" for that matter, no Taiwanese leader will have any bargaining power in dealing with the mainland.
Han's pragmatic approach serves as a useful reference for Hong Kong's opposition politicians, who have long been caught in a "to talk or not to talk" dilemma when it comes to dealing with Beijing.
The choices made when faced with this dilemma have sometimes hardened into intransigence; it has not helped that they have set red lines for themselves, such as rejecting invitations to the liaison office's receptions, refusing to even set foot on its premises.
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