Mon, Oct 28, 2013 - Page 8 News List

Defending defense of democracy

By Shih Ming-te 施明德

Taiwanese are experts when it comes to being colonized. Since the Dutch set up a colonial government on the island in 1624, to the arrival of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) after World War II and the intervening periods under the governance of the Spanish, Ming dynasty loyalist Cheng Cheng-kung (鄭成功) — better known as Koxinga — the Qing dynasty and Japan, Taiwan has been subject to outside rule. For centuries, it has been engaged in a struggle for freedom, democracy, sovereignty and human rights, often at grievous cost.

As one of many who have made a contribution to this struggle, it is only natural that I would take an interest in democracy and freedom in other countries and regions. This interest is not about personal gain; it is about conviction.

Compared with the experience of Taiwanese and other colonized peoples, the people who lived Hong Kong under the British were the exception rather than the rule. Hong Kongers had it good. Before the British came, the territory was a poor fishing village. Within three decades of colonial rule, it was transformed into “the jewel of the Orient.”

The British brought not only prosperity, but the rule of law and freedom, although there was still a lack of democracy: the Hong Kong governor was sent from London, not elected by Hong Kongers.

If the British returning Hong Kong to China was just giving the colony back to Beijing in such a way that pleased the Chinese government, but failed to allow Hong Kongers to feel they were no longer colonized or that they were their own masters, what was the point, or value, of the 1997 retrocession?

Then-Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) tried to reassure Hong Kongers by saying: “The horses will keep running, the dancers will keep dancing” (舞照跳, 馬照跑) — meaning that nothing would change after the handover. Hong Kongers had enjoyed the rule of law, freedom, dancing and horse racing under British rule, and for them to be the masters of the “Hong Kong Special Administrative Region” (SAR), with genuine universal suffrage to elect their governor after retrocession, should have gone without saying. It should have been a matter of course. In other words, they should have been given democracy. What good was retrocession without it?

For many years now, I have been careful not to get too involved with the affairs of foreign governments when people visit from abroad. A joint press conference I held with three “Occupy Central” campaign organizers — Lee Cheuk-yan (李卓人), chairman of protest organizer Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China; Joseph Cheng (鄭宇碩), professor of political science at Hong Kong City University; and Reverend Chu Yiu-ming (朱耀明) — in Taiwan was met with a strong reaction from Hong Kong. There were comments like: “Hong Kong secessionists team up with Taiwanese independence activist,” and people characterized me as: “Taiwan’s Osama bin Laden,” among other things.

I would like to briefly respond to these comments. First, I have always been aware of my place, and have been careful not to meddle in the affairs of other countries. Certainly, I would neither presume nor dare to offer instruction on how the Hong Kong democracy movement should proceed. However, interest in democracy, freedom and human rights in every country is the obligation of all civilized people.

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