Is it “Today’s Hong Kong, tomorrow’s Taiwan,” as Grace Choi indicated in Foreign Policy magazine on Aug. 19?
Two major developments that have given rise to increased concern in Hong Kong are the June 10 white paper issued by Beijing’s State Council Information Office, and the Aug. 31 announcement by the Standing Committee of the Chinese National People’s Congress that in 2017 the candidates for the territory’s chief executive must be approved by a nominating committee. There seems no doubt that Beijing will have the final say on who the nominating committee chooses.
The white paper basically said that in all matters related to Hong Kong, Beijing is in charge, negating the promises made in the 1984 Joint Declaration and the Basic Law, adopted by the congress in 1990 and which went into effect at the time of the transfer from the UK to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1997.
The essence of the agreement was that Beijing would adhere to “one country, two systems,” allowing Hong Kongers to run their own affairs for 50 years.
The two recent developments seem to undermine this, and the hope that democracy in the territory would gradually influence China has disappeared. The harsh reality is that Beijing is gradually imposing its own repressive system on Hong Kong.
This shows that Beijing will use economic influence and leverage to achieve political gains. The territory is already dependent on China for more that 50 percent of its external trade. Beijing is using this very effectively to extract political concessions, in particular from the business community.
Taiwan is also highly dependent on China for its external trade. About 40 percent of its total trade is with the PRC. If the proposed service trade and trade in goods agreements go through, this will only increase.
Interestingly, recent moves by Beijing have galvanized opposition in Hong Kong and Taiwan to work closer together. In Hong Kong, the Occupy Central movement is pushing back against China’s increasing influence in the territory, while in Taiwan, the Sunflower movement has voiced opposition over the service trade agreement bringing closer economic ties with China.
There are signs that the two movements are increasingly reaching out to each other, as Choi said in Foreign Policy.
It is difficult to see how anyone in Taiwan or foreign observers can watch current developments in Hong Kong and not have some notion that the territory is a mirror for Taiwan and the outcomes there an indication of its future.
If Taiwan allows itself to be pulled closer to China economically, Beijing will use this leverage to restrict Taiwan’s international space and influence its political scene.
In a sense, China is doing that already, as its leadership indicated preferences for results ahead of the 2012 elections.
The situation in Hong Kong should cause Taiwanese to reflect on rapprochement with China.
Nat Bellocchi served as chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan from 1990 to 1995. The views expressed in this article are his own.