The influence of the China factor is keenly felt in all aspects of life in Hong Kong, and increasingly so. People who work in the media are almost universally subject to pressure to self-censor, not to mention the blatant and undisguised interference in Hong Kong’s politics and elections by the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
Beijing has absolutely no intention to countenance the development or strengthening of a civil society in Hong Kong, and for this reason, it is keeping the pressure up on institutions that promote communication — such as the broadcast media or TV — to the extent that government officials in Beijing can apply pressure, either explicitly or implicitly, on their counterparts in Hong Kong with a single telephone call, influencing policymaking there.
So how should Taiwan deal with the China factor? I believe that it should do so on the following three levels.
First, it should consolidate the current civil society and encourage people to participate in the political decisionmaking process. In the US, the US-China Policy Foundation was set up in 1995 and has become an important soundboard for the US government in the formation of its China policy. Taiwan needs sustained debate, incorporating public opinion on the impact of the China factor on the country.
Second, Taiwan needs to pay more attention to how Hong Kong is developing under the “one country, two systems” model. The next five years are going to be decisive for Hong Kong, and are going to be crucial for whether it is going to be able to safeguard the Basic Law and judicial independence, hold “genuine” double general elections and continue to protect freedom of expression.
All of these are of interest to Taiwan, for no other reason than that Hong Kong is the best example, the precursor, of what Taiwan can expect under the influence of the China factor.
Finally, Taiwan needs to revisit the concept of the cross-strait common area, promote mutual understanding between China and Taiwan, and support the civil rights of the freedoms of assembly and expression, so that it can mitigate the systematic exclusion of public opinion from the policymaking process, and to make the necessary preparations for the inevitable future political talks.
Jackson Yeh is a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of Hong Kong.
Translated by Paul Cooper