Since 2014, several large social and political movements have occurred in Taiwan and Hong Kong. They have been linked, interacting and reinforcing each other, and China was the main cause for them all.
On March 18, 2014, Taiwanese student protesters launched the Sunflower movement and occupied the Legislative Yuan as they protested against the signing of the cross-strait service trade agreement.
In September that year, the “Umbrella movement” began in Hong Kong as residents launched a series of protests against Beijing demanding genuine universal suffrage in the election of the chief executive and legislators.
Politically, one consequence of these civil movements was that they reversed election results.
Since the Taiwanese and Hong Kong governments were too close to China at the time, this indirectly led to a series of electoral defeats for the ruling parties, handing victory to opposition forces.
In Taiwan, independent Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) was elected Taipei mayor in 2014, and the Democratic Progressive Party’s Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) was elected president in 2016 in an outburst of dislike among Taiwanese — triggered by the interactions between strong anti-Chinese sentiment in Taiwan and Hong Kong — against the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) pro-China line.
As a result of the Hong Kong protests against the extradition bill, the outcome of elections in Taiwan and Hong Kong could be determined by how close candidates are to China, just as they were in the aftermath of the 2014 protests.
However, international political and economic relations between Taiwan, the US and China, and between the US, China and Hong Kong were different in 2014, and Taiwan and Hong Kong are now forging a new relationship with China in the changing international political and economic order that is taking shape against the backdrop of the ongoing US-China trade dispute.
The relations between the three nations are now skewed toward the US and its economic and trade interests. In this new international political reality, any pro-Chinese action by the Taiwanese and Hong Kong governments will have a greater effect than they did in 2014, especially when it comes to elections.
The presidential candidates in next year’s election should not overlook the possible effects of Hong Kong’s extradition bill protests.
It would have been better for them to express their support for Hong Kong’s fight for democracy and rule of law, and their empathy and sympathy for Hong Kong’s oppressed residents, especially young people.
They should make it clear that Beijing’s interpretation that the protesters are “rioters” is incorrect.
The trade dispute and Hong Kong’s extradition bill protests have changed the battle over cross-strait relations. When dealing with bilateral platforms for cross-strait exchanges or China’s unilateral “united front” tactics, the changed situation no longer allows Taiwan’s presidential hopefuls to behave the same way.
On this new battlefield, sticking to past views is tantamount to taking a new approach.
Put differently, as the situation has changed, potential candidates must adjust their strategies. Those who do not see this change and remain stuck in the past as they discuss strategies and tactics will be swept into the dustbin of history.
Chan Chang-chuan is dean of National Taiwan University’s College of Public Health.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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