Mon, Jul 22, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Stephen M. Young On Taiwan: Hong Kong protests boost President Tsai’s re-election prospects

A few months ago, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) was facing a challenge from within her party by former premier William Lai (賴清德), and was seen as trailing potential KMT candidate Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) or independent Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) in her re-election bid. But now, with six months left before balloting, things look different.

Han Kuo-yu won July 15th’s KMT primary, so will represent the party in January’s presidential elections. It is still unclear whether Terry Gou (郭台銘) or anyone else will mount an independent candidacy. Tsai has won her primary, sending Mr. Lai packing, and polls favorably against all her potential pan-blue rivals. All we need now is for James Soong (宋楚瑜) to give his remote chances another shot.

It seems to me Beijing is doing its best to get Madame Tsai re-elected. This despite leaders there having no firsthand experience with truly democratic contests, since their preferred model is one-candidate contests with docile turnout by apathetic voters who know better than to stay home.

The significant international backdrop to all of this has been the messy spectacle in Hong Kong, where — presumably with strong mainland encouragement — Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) introduced the controversial plan to authorize extradition of suspects charged under PRC law from the former British colony to face criminal charges in the People’s Republic.

What Madame Lam or her Beijing masters didn’t bargain on was the massive protests that rapidly followed. Crowds of up to 2 million citizens of the territory turned out in a series of protests that startled Ms. Lam and outraged denizens of Zhongnanhai up north. These mass protests have continued, though some of their luster was tarnished when a small group of activists stormed the Legislative Council offices on July first and caused some damage during their brief occupation. Friends of democracy can lament these excesses, without ignoring the passions that fueled them.

What is at stake in Hong Kong is the viability of Deng Xiaoping’s (鄧小平) vaunted pledge to permit a great deal of autonomy for 50 years following the 1997 British handover of the former colony to Beijing. During negotiations in the early 1980s with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Deng famously promised that Hong Kong could continue to enjoy this autonomous status at least until 2047. Deng also extended this vague concept to Taiwan, though it has never generated any significant support there. The argument across the Taiwan Strait was that Taiwan already enjoyed all the attributes of sovereignty, and could in no way be compared with the colonial territory of Hong Kong.

Over time, the mainland drifted away from touting “one country, two systems” to the 23 million citizens of Taiwan, stressing instead the more vacuous “1992 Consensus” that KMT politician Su Chi (蘇起) eventually confessed he had made up out of thin air. During President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) tenure in office, this became the basis for cross-strait dialogue, culminating in the meeting between Ma and Xi Jinping (習近平) in Singapore in 2015. The DPP regained power in 2016, and President Tsai evinced no interest in embracing this nebulous formula, which has resulted in a freeze in formal contacts between the two sides ever since.

Enter the Hong Kong protesters of 2019, who have reminded the world that most of the 7 million residents of that metropolis value the freedoms they already enjoy, and want a greater say in their own governance, as promised by Deng and his successors over the past several decades.

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