Sun, Jul 29, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Heeding the warning of Hong Kong

By Joseph Tse-Hei Lee 李榭熙

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.

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