Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je has once again criticised Hong Kong for being an unattractive city.

“Hong Kong is not only small, but it also does not have democratic elections. What is there to envy in Hong Kong? It doesn’t even have a soul that is free,” Ko said during a talk in Taiwan on Sunday.

Ko Wen-je
Ko Wen-je. File Photo: Ko Wen-je, via Facebook.

The talk, hosted by Taiwanese publication The Journalist, was intended for Ko to speak about his tour in Southeast Asia. Besides Hong Kong, Ko also likened Singapore to a “wild canary inside a bird cage.”

He said Thailand suffered from a lack of democratic elections, while Malaysia and India faced delicate religious issues, broadcaster SET Taiwan reported. In comparison, Taiwan’s diverse and open-minded society had become a benchmark for other Asian societies, Ko said.

‘Don’t tease us’

Former Legislative Council candidate Gary Wong Chi-him of think tank Path of Democracy, who attended the event, asked Ko to be careful with his words as a politician and remain humble.

Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong also responded to Ko’s remarks in a Facebook post on Sunday. He said he disagreed with Ko’s view that Hongkongers lacked a soul thirsty for freedom.

“The Umbrella Movement has shown that Hongkongers believe in democratic values and are prepared to fight for democracy,” Wong said. He added that Ko should voice support for Hong Kong’s democracy movement rather than teasing the city, since “Taiwan and Hong Kong are both facing interference and oppression by the Chinese Communist Party.”

joshua wong chief executive election democracy umbrella protest 2017
Joshua Wong (centre) and other activists. Photo: Tyrone Siu/Reuters.

“Today’s Hong Kong is tomorrow’s Taiwan. Even though our histories and systems are different, when it comes to the China factor, it is necessary for Hongkongers and Taiwanese to join hands,” he said.

‘Boring island’

Last month, Ko drew media attention after he said at a public event in New Delhi that Hong Kong is a “boring small island with nothing interesting to see.” He said Taiwan lags behind Hong Kong in terms of international tourism, even though Taiwan is “more fun, with more good food and better scenery.”

Ko later dismissed criticism that it was a blunder. He said he was “bitter” about Hong Kong’s popularity among international tourists.

Ko is a physician and has been Taipei’s mayor as an independent since 2014. He is known for being blunt.

The Hong Kong Tourism Board said around 4.2 million tourists visited Hong Kong in February. It saw the highest growth of Japanese tourists, followed by Thais and Indonesians. The board said the growth in international tourists is partly due to increased resources in promoting Hong Kong to overseas markets in recent years.

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.