The past two months have been extremely eventful for Hong Kong. On June 11, Edward Leung Tin-kei (梁天琦), former spokesperson of Hong Kong Indigenous, a populist radical group known for its stance on democratic localism, was jailed for six years on a political charge of inciting violence against police officers on Lunar New Year’s Day in 2015, during what was widely called the “fishball revolution.”
A thoughtful, charismatic and eloquent speaker, Leung has championed Hong Kongers’ right to self-determination and enjoys much popularity among post-colonial young people. He has become Hong Kong’s Wei Jingsheng (魏京生), an activist who was imprisoned for posting an essay titled The Fifth Modernization on Beijing’s Democracy Wall in 1978, criticizing then-Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s (鄧小平) dictatorial impulse and calling for the replacement of China’s one-party dictatorship with democracy.
Another political casualty is Andy Chan Ho-tin (陳浩天), convener of the Hong Kong National Party, a small political fringe group that advocates the territory’s independence from China. Condemned by Beijing as subverting national sovereignty, his pro-independence organization has been banned.
These fiascos have wider repercussions for Taiwan. China has always intended to use the formula of “one country, two systems” used for Hong Kong and Macau to co-opt Taiwan, but the latter is determined to oppose political integration.
As Richard Bush argued in his 2016 book Hong Kong in the Shadow of China: Living with the Leviathan, Taiwan’s successful liberalization has enlarged the gap between its democratic governance and the Chinese framework of administrative autonomy designed for Hong Kong.
The most serious problem has to do with China’s capability to manipulate, dictate and dominate Hong Kong’s electoral processes and outcomes. During the 1990s, China sought to ensure that none of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy leaders would become chief executive, and that the existing pro-democracy and pro-Beijing parties would not expand to rival the Chinese Communist Party.
Having experienced political persecution and survived the White Terror era (1947-1987), many Taiwanese are skeptical of the traps of institutional hypocrisy. Proud of their hard-won democracy, Taiwanese do not want the functioning electoral system to be infiltrated and controlled by an outside power, as has happened in Hong Kong.
If the nation were to embrace the same constitutional arrangements as in Hong Kong, the Democratic Progressive Party would never win the presidency or control the Legislative Yuan.
When Taiwan turned away from authoritarianism toward democracy in the late 1980s and 1990s, Hong Kong relied on Britain to negotiate with China over the extent to which liberal institutions, such as free and competitive elections, independent media and the rule of law, would be preserved.
China is tightening its grip over Hong Kong’s internal affairs and declaring war on local pro-independence forces. This reveals a deep obsession with control and a great fear of instability. Hong Kong has been trapped by a concerted effort to deliberalize it, losing its limited autonomy and moving toward an autocracy.
By comparison, Taiwan enjoys a great deal of freedom that is unseen in neighboring countries. It is to be the first and only Asian nation to legalize same-sex marriage, giving homosexual couples the same rights as heterosexual ones. Taiwanese voters have the constitutional right to choose representatives and leaders at all levels of government. The results of free, fair and transparent elections express public sentiment and concerns.
Taiwan’s democratization has diminished China’s desire for unification. When former vice-president Lien Chan (連戰) led a delegation to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) in Beijing on July 13, his well-intended deeds were meant to improve cross-strait ties. Yet the closed-door gathering could hardly resolve the fundamental differences in socio-political values and governance structures between the two sides.
Geopolitical conditions remain challenging for Taiwan. The latest disappointment was the East Asian Olympic Committee’s revocation of Taichung’s right to host next year’s East Asian Youth Games. This decision typifies China’s coercive tactics to humiliate Taiwan and remake East Asia in its own authoritarian image.
Faced with an assertive China and an isolationist US, it is immensely difficult for Taiwan to maintain independent statehood without international recognition, but the nation should take Hong Kong’s governance crisis as a warning sign.
Joseph Tse-Hei Lee is a professor of history at Pace University in New York City.
An article on the Nature magazine Web site reports that 22 scientists last month wrote to the daily Dagens Nyheter criticizing Sweden’s no-lockdown response to COVID-19. However, evidence-based analysis shows that a lockdown is not a one-size-fits-all strategy and Sweden is showing the world a sustainable way for everybody to fearlessly live with the virus, which is an inevitable situation that everyone must face and accept for a while. The biggest myth about lockdowns is that they are the only solution when an epidemic worsens. A lockdown is a measure to cordon off a seriously affected area so that people in
On Monday, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) spoke during the opening ceremony of this year’s World Health Assembly (WHA). For the first time in the assembly’s history, attendees, including Xi, had to dial in virtually. Xi made no acknowledgement of the Chinese government’s role in causing the COVID-19 pandemic, nor was there any meaningful apology. Instead, he painted China as a benign force for good and a friend to all nations. Except Taiwan, of course. The address was a reheated version of the speech Xi gave at the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Xi again attempted to step into the