Wed, Jun 07, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Beijing has no sway over youth

By Chen Fang-ming 陳芳明

What does “quasi-citizenship treatment” mean? China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits Chairman Chen Deming (陳德銘) has said that Taiwanese — in particular young Taiwanese — who go to China will be given the best treatment when it comes to studying, working or starting a business, very close to the treatment that Chinese citizens get, and that this will be implemented this year.

This kind of statements sends far too many signals. The situation that China faces across the Taiwan Strait is not what it used to be, with Beijing able to do as it pleased, as it now has to deal with a new situation following the latest change of ruling party.

First, the election of Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) as president changed the so-called “1992 consensus” pledge between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Second, the KMT is in disarray following its recent chairperson election. Even more importantly, the generation that has grown up seeing Taiwanese independence as the natural state of affairs now have the power to speak up and say what they think.

Beijing clearly is no longer able to keep up with the dramatic rate of change in Taiwanese society and it is also aware that the KMT will not return to power in the short term. Its representatives in Taiwan are no longer able to keep up their part of the “1992 consensus,” so Beijing must find new ways to communicate to stop Taipei drifting too far from its control.

As the “1992 consensus” is beginning to look tired, Beijing has come up with the “quasi-citizenship” workaround. This approach does not require a representative in Taiwan and allows Beijing to control the cross-strait situation by appealing directly to young people and trying to win them over.

However, is it really possible for the generation that has grown up to see Taiwanese independence as the natural state of affairs to be so easily persuaded?

“Quasi-citizenship” only focuses on education, employment and entrepreneurship. In other words, Beijing thinks that these are the only things young people are concerned about and that they have no other aspirations.

If Beijing understood the key points of Taiwan’s democratization, it would understand that this generation has higher ideals than that.

In addition to education and starting businesses, they are considering Taiwan’s future direction and foremost among the values in those considerations are democracy, human rights, fairness and justice.

If all they wanted was money, young people would not consider only China; they would look to the whole world. When it comes to China — which persecutes people and ignores human rights any time, anywhere — they are filled with fear.

The detention in China of Taiwanese human rights advocate Lee Ming-che (李明哲) has been an eye-opener for young Taiwanese. They see Chinese rights lawyers “disappearing” over and over again, and when democracy advocates in Hong Kong are forced to “confess” on TV, that becomes a vivid example of political education. They will wonder when they themselves will be arrested and sentenced behind closed doors.

This is a chilling experience for the generation that has grown up to see independence as the natural state of affairs and become used to a democratic way of life. Of course they will keep an eye on what is happening and make their own comparisons; and what they see will remain vivid in their minds.

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