Mon, Feb 18, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Stephen M. Young On Taiwan: What is Xi Jinping up to now?

Earlier this year, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) made a new overture to Taiwan, suggesting a certain lack of patience over the island state’s reluctance to embrace his appeals for early reunification. Taipei’s democratically elected leader Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) quickly turned the appeal aside, highlighting again the differences between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. Though bruised by local elections late last year that featured gains by the Kuomintang opposition, Tsai is gearing up to defend her presidency in elections scheduled for early 2020. Xi, of course, faces no such referendum from his own people, having continued to turn aside any calls for greater popular participation in the politics of the PRC, which remains in the iron grip of the communist party there.

President Xi continues to tout the virtues of “one country, two systems,” first hinted at nearly forty years ago by his predecessor, Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平), following the shift of American diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing. Deng more formally rolled out the formula in early 1982, as he began negotiations with British Prime Minster Thatcher on the return of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty. This concept however has been badly tarnished by recent moves on the part of the mainland to sharply curtail the freedoms initially promised to the people of Hong Kong.

I recently visited Hong Kong for the first time in five years, having earlier served as US Consul General there. On the surface, Hong Kong continues to prosper as a trade and financial center. But there is an undercurrent of gloom, as mainland promises of continued autonomy have been repeatedly undermined by words and actions from the north. Some international businesses are considering pulling their regional headquarters out of the territory, perhaps to the somewhat safer climes of Singapore, which still enjoys unfettered rule of law. Local Hong Kong activists are rightly concerned by the backtracking of Beijing’s promises to permit greater democracy in the former colony.

All this surprises me, because there is no danger of a real uprising in Hong Kong against mainland overrule. The stock market isn’t falling, and on the surface the city still projects a self-confident outlook. But Beijing’s backtracking on earlier pledges to permit greater self-governance, by directly interfering in the operations of the Legislative Council, sends an ominous signal. What is worse, this comes less than halfway through the pledged fifty years of autonomy that Deng had promised the people of Hong Kong.

So is it little surprise that sentiment in the truly self-ruling Taiwan is increasingly cool to Beijing’s blandishments? After all, Hong Kong was meant to demonstrate the fealty of the mainland government to the spirit and letter of the 1984 Sino-British Declaration on Hong Kong that specified return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

At the same time, China has been busy ratcheting up tension with the rest of its neighbors, over territorial claims as well as trade and commercial questions. Ignoring the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration that turned aside Chinese claims to the South China Sea, Mr. Xi has occupied and militarized several of the islands there and confronted US warships that dispute his dubious claims. No slave to petty rule of law concepts, Beijing has also engaged in blatant hostage taking of Canadian citizens following the detention of a prominent PRC businesswoman in Vancouver over a commercial dispute with the giant Huawei (華為) firm.

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