The pro-democracy movements in Taiwan and Hong Kong have in the past followed different routes, but recent events in Hong Kong suggest there has been a degree of confluence in their trajectories.
For the past 10 or so days, students have staged hunger strikes to protest plans by the Hong Kong government to introduce Chinese patriotism classes in schools, which people suspect are an attempt to brainwash schoolchildren. Tens of thousands of people gathered on the streets of Hong Kong to protest against the planned curriculum changes and eventually succeeded in getting the government to announce it would withdraw plans to introduce the new classes within the next three years. This was a victory for the people of Hong Kong, who stood up for their rights.
This brings to mind the Wild Lilies Student Movement (野百合學運) of 1990, when more than 6,000 students staged a hunger strike in front of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, calling for the disbanding of the National Assembly, the abolition of the Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of National Mobilization for Suppression of the Communist Rebellion (動員戡亂時期臨時條款), the holding of a state affairs meeting and the setting of a timetable for political and economic reforms. Then-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) met their demands and put Taiwan on the path to democratic reform.
On Sunday, Hong Kong had its Legislative Council elections. The enthusiastic protests against the patriotism classes failed to translate into the predicted legislative seat gains for the pro-democracy parties, despite a turnout rate of 53 percent. Hobbled by ill-advised tactical voting and infighting, the pan-democracy camp managed to win only 18 seats, while the pro-China, pan-establishment camp got 17. Although the pan-democracy camp’s haul fell short of predictions, it retained more than a third of the seats and will have the right of veto in the new legislative session. Nevertheless, Democratic Party Chairman Albert Ho (何俊仁) fell on his sword to take responsibility for the party’s poor showing.
The political situation in Hong Kong has parallels with that in Taiwan. Both are under threat by China’s “one country, two systems” idea and both are under pressure from Beijing. The pro-China, or pro-establishment camp is like the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in Taiwan, with the advantage in funding and resources. Taiwanese would have been only too familiar with scenes during Sunday’s election of voters being bused to voting stations, instructions on how best to vote tactically and large adverts splashed across Hong Kong newspapers on election day calling on people to vote for “stability.” The pan-democracy parties in Hong Kong lack the pro-establishment camp’s resources and ability to organize tactical voting, and rely on ideas and their transmission to attract votes, much like the Democratic Progressive Party here. We have more experience of party politics than Hong Kong, where it is still in its early stages and has a long way to go. It can learn from the experience of Taiwan’s democratic movement.
Some people have likened Taiwan’s situation now to that of Hong Kong in 1997, when the former British colony was handed back to China. At that point, China started to pervade all levels of Hong Kong’s politics and society. There are fears that Taiwan is becoming increasingly like Hong Kong in this regard. Now, as the governing and opposition parties work out how best to deal with China and formulate their China policies, Hong Kong is a useful reference. Taiwan and Hong Kong can learn a lot from each other. And for us, this starts with monitoring the mass school strikes organized by the student movement.