Mon, Nov 19, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Stephen Young On Taiwan: The demise of “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong: Lessons for Taiwan

In time, relations between Beijing and Taipei also began to thaw. I remember coming across Taiwan tourists visiting China in the late eighties. Later on, I followed the flow of Taiwan business and capital into the China market in the nineties, as Deng’s economic policies offered opportunities for astute businessmen to make money in the mainland.

China grew economically while Taiwan prospered and democratized. As the cost of labor increased in Taiwan, local businesses began shifting their manufacturing and assembly operations across the Taiwan Strait, to take advantage of cheaper labor costs and reliable partnerships. It seemed like a “win-win” for everyone involved.

On June 30, 1997, the Union Jack finally came down over Hong Kong. But the newly minted “Special Autonomous Region” (SAR) that replaced British sovereignty after 1997 continued to flourish. Rudimentary democracy was instituted there, with the promise that this trend would continue and deepen in the coming years. Some felt that Hong Kong’s return to Beijing sovereignty had been so successful that its gradual transition into a fully Chinese political entity by 2047 would become anticlimactic.

Enter Xi Jinping (習近平). Mr. Xi — son of a high-ranking PRC official, who like his father had suffered during the Cultural Revolution before being rehabilitated, quickly rose through the ranks, and became China’s top leader in 2012. Over the past six years, he has amassed control of the political, military and economic levers of power, becoming today the most powerful Chinese leader since Deng. Many believe Mr. Xi’s real ambition is to become the second Mao of China, eclipsing other leaders who never rose beyond the position of first among equals in a loose collective leadership.

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s democratic trajectory astonished observers around the globe. The island has emerged not only as a powerful economic engine, constantly reinventing itself to remain one of the most impressive models of growth in a dynamic region. It has also become a symbol of successful democratization, having transitioned through several peaceful democratic changes of power since the early 1990s.

But let’s go back to Hong Kong. Mr. Xi doesn’t seem able to leave a good thing alone. His aggressive policies toward Hong Kong have drawn into question whether any promise China makes there is worth the paper it is written on. A widely applauded pledge to allow the people of Hong Kong to select their own leaders, first in their legislative branch, then in selecting the Chief Executive, has been watered down to the point that many Hong Kongers despair of their future.

The emergence in Hong Kong of a vocal youth movement calling for true democracy and autonomy has complicated matters for Beijing. For the teenaged protesters in the streets today, 2047 is no longer an abstraction. Many of them are young enough that they will be in the prime of life 29 years from now. If China continues to renege on its pledges, they see their future in Hong Kong as fragile and perishable. Most recently, Hong Kong’s freedom of expression has been shaken by the refusal to allow speakers known for their liberal views to be heard in public fora there.

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