When Taiwan lifted Martial Law in 1987, Hong Kong already enjoyed freedom and the rule of law. While pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong were striving for direct elections to the Legislative Council in 1988, Taiwanese had just freed themselves from the White Terror era.
In the past two decades, Taiwan has witnessed four presidential elections and two transfers of political power. What can Taiwan learn from the democratic development of Hong Kong over these years? Why is it that Hong Kong has fallen so far behind Taiwan in its democratic development?
Hong Kong’s chief executive is elected by an 800-member committee, mainly appointed directly or indirectly by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Such an election system is even more ridiculous than what was described as the “permanent term of office of the National Assembly of the Republic of China (ROC).” This refers to the members of the ROC’s first National Assembly, who were allowed to hold office indefinitely because the fall of China to the CCP made it impossible for the ROC to hold new elections in the original districts after retreating to Taiwan. In addition, only 30 of the 60 legislative seats in Hong Kong are elected by universal suffrage in geographical constituencies, with the other 30 elected from so-called functional constituencies. For example, the representative of the insurance industry is elected by the votes of about 100 corporations. Surprisingly, such an absurd election system, which was abolished during the term of former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), is still in place in Hong Kong.
The economic development of Hong Kong under the “one country, two systems” framework has indeed served as a mirror for Taiwan — as a negative example. Because of its close proximity to the mainland, Hong Kong seized the advantage of low-cost manufacturing in China and moved all its high-tech companies there, completely ignoring the importance of improving professional skills. As a result, all Hong Kong’s low-skilled workers have been forced to switch to the service sector and the economy only survives thanks to Chinese tourists.
Besides, only two-thirds of college graduates in Hong Kong are locals, with college admission rates remaining the lowest among the Four Asian Tigers. Hong Kong is filled with students from the mainland, who have not only occupied local graduate schools, but also become the first choice for Chinese-funded institutes. Every time it comes to an election, these students will solicit votes and campaign for CCP-affiliated political parties.
Recently, Henry Tang (唐英年), who is the second highest Hong Kong government official and also expected to be a candidate in the chief executive elections in 2012, has said in public that a household with an income of around NT$80,000 in Hong Kong would live “a better quality life” if it moved to the mainland and that he wants to integrate Hong Kong with Guangdong Province by 2020 to create a market of 10 million people. He only spoke of economic development, never mentioning politics. With China repeatedly breaking its promises on democratic development, members of the Legislative Council in Hong Kong will not be elected entirely by universal suffrage until 2020 at the earliest.
What have Taiwanese learned from this lesson?
Will Taiwanese want to regress? Will they want to lose their national sovereignty? Will they want to become colonial slaves again? Will President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who managed to avoid attending a memorial for the Tiananmen Square Massacre this year, have the nerve to say: “Unification with China cannot even be discussed until Hong Kong is democratic?”
Kay Lam is a political commentator.
TRANSLATED BY TED YANG
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