The government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) has recently begun a legislative drive to enact Article 23 of the Basic Law
This law, passed by the National People's Congress of China, states "The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Central People's Government, or theft of state secrets, to prohibit foreign political organizations or bodies from conducting political activities in the Region, and to prohibit political organizations or bodies of the Region from establishing ties with foreign political organizations or bodies."
The underlying implications of this development cannot be brushed aside, and in fact deserve close attention, especially in Taiwan.
During the British colonial period, Hong Kong was not without laws to punish the crime of "treason." Hong Kong Law, Chapter 200, Section 9 defines acts involving "seditious intent," that is to say, acts of treason against Her Majesty the Queen or Great Britain. But hardly anyone in Hong Kong felt constrained by this law, despite the fact that the mob violence of the 1960's was a vivid memory for many.
It was also difficult to detect any serious concern on the part of London in the post-World War II era about the liberty and freedoms of Hong Kong causing the colony to become a center of anti-British or anti-colonial rule.
Since Hong Kong's handover to China in 1997, it is fair to say, the people of Hong Kong have shown no less patriotism and no less obedience to China's central government than the people of other Chinese provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions.
There are no political groups or individuals harboring animosity, much less thoughts of rebellion, toward the People's Republic of China (PRC). The Chinese government knows this only too well. The possibility of Hong Kong declaring independence or of its people becoming rebellious or uncooperative in any other way is absolutely zero.
This being so, what exactly is the purpose of Article 23?
Actually, Article 23 not only explicitly asks the Hong Kong SAR to enact laws against treason, but also goes as far as banning political organizations and groups in Hong Kong from having contacts with similar groups abroad. It is the belief of this author that this is the real catch of Article 23.
The article is best described as one which seeks to eliminate any possibility of Hong Kong being used by any outside force to oppose China and foment chaos at home.
But, these "forces" were not born yesterday, nor even the day before that or, for that matter, the day before that. Why is it that in the past China was able to turn a blind eye to them, whilst today it takes active steps to stamp them out, taking the risk of being accused of breaching the spirit of "one country, two systems?"
One reason is probably that the Chinese leadership is sensing a much higher level of explosive internal pressure and unrest than the outside world -- especially Taiwan -- generally realizes.
As a result of official determination to eliminate disorder, some freedoms and borderline activities previously tolerated in Hong Kong -- such as membership in the Falun Gong and commemoration of the victims of the Tiananmen Square Massacre -- have therefore become unacceptable today.
This is neither because these activities have increased, nor because the Hong Kong people are becoming increasingly resentful of the central government. It may very well be, however, because the internal problems of China have reached a point at which the Chinese government feels that no risks or loopholes can be allowed.
Even certain long-established freedoms in Hong Kong, which are of very important symbolic value, must now be sacrificed as the "lesser of two evils."
The second reason may be the harsh reality that the importance of Hong Kong to China has declined significantly, and to the extent that China no longer needs to pay special regard to the uniqueness and high state of development of Hong Kong. It would of course be best if the SAR could continue to be prosperous, but this doesn't matter as much as before.
If this is indeed one of the reasons why the article is being introduced, then additional restrictions on Hong Kong's freedoms should be expected in the days to come. They won't stop at Article 23.
Reason number three may be new thinking by China on its Taiwan policy. In the past, many believed that China was counting on the success of "one country, two systems" to enhance the appeal of unification with Taiwan.
As a result, many Hong Kong people were optimistic about the future and the freedoms of Hong Kong. They believed that Hong Kong was indispensable to China in at least two ways: First, it could facilitate economic development in China. Second, it could be used to appeal to Taiwan.
Now, however, it is common knowledge on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait and in Hong Kong itself, that the economic value of Hong Kong has seriously declined.
Moreover, Beijing's view about unifying Taiwan has been the diametric opposite of what many previously believed.
The common view was that China worried that after the DPP became the ruling party, Taiwan might drift further away from unification and lean increasingly toward independence.
Furthermore, it was thought -- in view of the seriousness of the situation between the two sides -- that much Chinese policy making would be given over to considerations of how to apply pressure to Taiwan.
But, given the snook that China is now cocking at its "one country, two systems" window dressing, obviously it now feels sufficiently optimistic about unification with Taiwan that it couldn't care less about dimming the light behind this window dressing any more.
After George W. Bush took office as US president, neither the US-Taiwan relationship nor the international situation has given Taiwan any reason to become more pro-independent or given China any reason to feel so confident about unification.
This confidence is without any question a result of China's own evaluation of the situation in Taiwan. It is, most likely, Taiwan's rapid "sinicization," its "free fall" toward dependency on China, and political developments on the island, that have boosted China's confidence.
Chang Kuo-cheng is the former deputy director of the DPP's Chinese Affairs Department.
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