The legislative elections held in Hong Kong yesterday are an example for Taiwan. Although Hong Kong’s elections are far from free and universal, they demonstrate public opinion and serve as a litmus test of how the public views China.
With its overbearing rule of the former British colony, Beijing has managed to turn a lot of voters against it. Many Hong Kongers are content to allow a small group of pro-Beijing businesspeople and China-appointed cadres to call the shots when it comes to bigger issues, but when the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) tried to influence education and inculcate their children with nationalist, pro-CCP, propaganda, in an attempt to brainwash the next generation, Hong Kong voters drew the line.
Although Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (梁振英) caved in to pressure and backed down on the plans for nationalism to be taught in schools, the damage was done. A higher voter turnout, at 53 percent versus 45.2 percent in 2008, helped the pro-democrats retain a key voice in a legislature that could usher in universal suffrage in the next five years. Voters’ resentment at 15 years of Beijing ignoring calls for universal suffrage, the massive influx of Chinese tourism and the ever-ballooning wealth divide didn’t play in the CCP’s favor.
Taiwan’s situation is not that different, although the details are particular to Taiwan’s position. President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) government and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) have virtually been acting on the CCP’s behalf ever since retaking power in 2008, and had been doing so even when they were in opposition.
The Ma administration has rolled back education reforms initiated under the Democratic Progressive Party to de-emphasize Taiwan’s unique place in the Asia-Pacific and shift the focus back to Taiwan as a part of an overarching Chinese civilization. It has signed Taiwan’s economy over to China and given Beijing final say in decisions that would give Taiwan a bit of international space — just look at how Ma gushed with pleasure when Beijing gave a tentative green light to Taiwan’s joining the UN-affiliated International Civil Aviation Organization.
However, like in Hong Kong, the Ma administration may have overstepped its boundaries when the National Communications Commission approved the Want Want China Times Group’s bid to acquire the cable TV services owned by China Network Systems, effectively allowing Tiananmen Square Massacre denier and Beijing stooge Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明) to create a giant news monopoly in Taiwan.
If there is one thing Taiwanese cherish, it is their daily dose of news. From cab drivers to business owners, young and old alike, all seem to have an opinion about the political situation and the cross-strait balance. Taiwan has more dedicated news channels than most countries and a plethora of programs devoted to analyzing or reporting the news, while radio stations give full vent to political rants at just about every turn.
Jeopardizing the freedom to talk about the news and have an independent opinion on China is hitting Taiwanese where it hurts, just like trying to train Hong Kong children to be Little-Red-Book-toting communists hit them where it hurts.
There is a backlash brewing, and it will be felt in the polling booths, just like the backlash taking shape in Hong Kong right now.