Tue, Jul 15, 2003 - Page 8 News List


Taiwan is no SAR

The mass demonstrations in Hong Kong, which has a population of around 6 million, clearly indicate that its residents value democracy and freedom as much as bread and butter issues ("Hong Kong sees huge night-time public protests," July 10, page 1).

The unemployment rate is at an all-time high in Hong Kong and tourism is suffering. Its economy is still suffering from the impact of the Sept. 11 attacks on the US, the Bali bombing last October and the SARS outbreak this year. Despite the severe economic gloom in Hong Kong, its residents are bent on making their voices heard, as seen in the rallies.

What does this tell us? Simply that they no longer have faith in the Hong Kong government. All the promises of freedom and autonomy for the next 50 years after the British handed over the colony in 1997 are now merely vanishing dreams.

In this aspect, Taiwan is now indeed fortunate or should I say, privileged, to have the DPP's Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) as president. Chen has proven, over the past three years, to be a man of principles, who would not betray the Taiwanese for any personal gain. When close to 40 percent of the electorate voted for Chen in the March 2000 election, they knew of his pro-independence stance. Despite not having secured the majority vote, Chen has stuck to the faith and trust his voters have toward him.

At the macro level, Chen has done well not to incur the wrath of the ever-unpredictable Chinese by declaring independence. On the micro level, he has not disappointed his voters by succumbing to pressure and threats from the Chinese government. Fulfilling the promises of the election platform is the most basic principle any trustworthy and sincere presidential candidate should possess.

I have been to both Taiwan and Hong Kong. While I am much more familiar with the latter, I would have to say that in present times, I am much happier for the Taiwanese than the people of Hong Kong.

Under former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), Taiwan embarked on a program of democraticization, accompanied by economic growth. Lee is probably the leader who "saved" Taiwan from becoming another Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China.

Lee believed in freedom and democracy and was worried that if Taiwan were to come under the control of the Chinese government, all the benefits the Taiwanese have been enjoying would be lost. To a large extent, Lee was spot on.

His personal achievements as the president were only marred by the occasional fears instilled in the Taiwanese as a result of the threats from China.

The Hong Kong protests have clearly indicated that the expectation of its residents was very different from the government's expectation. It should have been expected, given the fact that the Hong Kong residents had enjoyed a different climate pre-1997. Instead of having better lives, Hong Kong residents have now experienced the opposite.

While any government has the authority and right to enact any law for the greater interest of the society, Hong Kong's government seems to have neglected to consider that its residents were used to a different era. The people of Hong Kong have yet to be convinced that they are better off after six years under their present administration.

My worry is that should Taiwan become a SAR anytime in the near future, it could witness the scenes that occurred in Hong Kong. In many aspects, pre-1997 Hong Kong was similar to Taiwan today, enjoying a high degree of autonomy, freedom, democracy and good economic growth. It is understandable that its residents had come to expect more of the same.

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