Beijing is Laying the blame for the political chaos in Hong Kong squarely at the door of the US and Taiwan. Its leaders are in denial: Through their own ineptitude they have transformed a domestic problem into an international incident.
In the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) promised to adhere to a “one country, two systems” model of governance, which guaranteed that Hong Kong’s freedoms would remain intact for 50 years.
However, following Hong Kong’s handover in 1997, Beijing began to interfere in the territory. It started with the 2003 attempt to introduce anti-subversion legislation using Article 23 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law. Today Hong Kongers are fighting an extradition bill, which, if forced through the legislature, would allow anyone to be extradited from Hong Kong to mainland China.
These acts of interference by Beijing gave rise to the 2014 “Umbrella movement” and following civil disobedience protests.
The protest movement is not just about Beijing going back on its promise to implement universal suffrage for the legislature and chief executive — it is also a reaction to a fundamental and pressing threat to Hong Kong’s freedoms.
Faced with a fightback from Hong Kong residents and coming under intense focus from the international community, Beijing last month arrogantly claimed that the Sino-British Joint Declaration was a “historic document.” It also said the “one country, two systems” model must take into account the wishes of the central government lest it become a vehicle for Hong Kong independence.
During the anti-extradition protests, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) has been taking her cues from Beijing, while her predecessors Tung Chee-hwa (董建華) and Leung Chun-ying (梁振英) have been fanning the flames of populist nationalism.
As Hong Kong’s model of governance increasingly inclines toward “one country” and away from “two systems,” residents are gradually drifting further apart from the mainland, but the current protests are not unconnected to changes in the wider international environment.
Headlines in Taiwanese media alternate between the intensifying US-China trade dispute and the Hong Kong protests. These twin narratives are having a subtle but significant effect on next year’s presidential election.
With the Formosa Alliance, the Taiwan People’s Party and the One Side, One Country Action Party, Taiwan’s political division continues, seemingly oblivious to external threats and opportunities. Whether the nation is prepared, such influences will have an impact on the presidential election campaign.
Politicians ranging from Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜), Hon Hai Precision Industry Co founder Terry Gou (郭台銘) and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) to Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) are all pandering to Beijing to varying degrees.
Beijing, which interfered significantly in last year’s local elections, will not be able to resist the opportunity to try to turn the tables on President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文). Its campaign is already up and running: At the beginning of the month, it revoked permission for independent Chinese travelers to visit Taiwan, a move designed to hurt Tsai.
Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump has refrained from endorsing a specific candidate, but said he supports maintaining the “status quo,” continued purchases of defensive military hardware and the continued passage of warships through the Taiwan Strait. Washington’s strategic aims are clear.
Next year’s election is not just about selecting a president. Voters will also be choosing sides in the US-China trade dispute and expressing their opinion on “one country, two systems,” which Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) hopes to foist on Taiwan.
These three questions are of course inextricably linked. Voting for a Taiwan-centered government implies seeking to shift Taiwan’s economy away from China and returning to the universal values of the free market.
Hong Kong must safeguard its fundamental human rights and push for the implementation of universal suffrage in the election of its chief executive and Legislative Council. This is tantamount to expressing the view that China is in desperate need of political reform and that it should follow in the footsteps of Taiwan; resist the temptations of authoritarianism, chart a course toward the universal values of democracy, liberty and human rights; and reject lifetime tenure for their top leaders.
If Taiwanese next year vote for one of Beijing’s preferred presidential candidates, this would not only mean welcoming closer ties with the PRC, it would also be a tacit acceptance of “one country, two systems” and mean leaving the ranks of the Indo-Pacific alliance of democratic nations.
Taiwan would become a key battleground in the geostrategic struggle between the US and China. Such a choice would also imply that Taiwanese approve of Beijing’s Hong Kong policy and its using the same means to suppress opposition in Taiwan that it is using in Hong Kong.
Taiwanese must make their own choice.
One can imagine that Beijing’s approved candidates will expend a great deal of energy trying to dispel the sharp, inherent contradictions of this position: employing political chicanery to sell voters a future of milk and honey, while simultaneously promising to “defend the Republic of China.”
However, were one of China’s Manchurian candidates to capture the presidency, once in office, they would be unable to resist marching to the tune of their masters in Beijing. As the Sunflower movement slogan proclaimed: “Today Hong Kong, tomorrow Taiwan.”
As the US-China trade dispute becomes bogged down in a stalemate, China’s second-quarter GDP growth slowed to 6.2 percent, its lowest level in 27 years.
Meanwhile, outside China, as the Orwellian nightmare of Xi’s “Chinese dream” changes international attitudes, China is no longer seen as a growth-driving engine.
If Taiwan were to elect a president who chose to side with China, there would be both economic and political consequences.
Taiwanese need to understand that the trade dispute has been a watershed: How the world sees China now is very different from before the row began.
Assuming that China’s economy will be able to renew itself on its own and continue to grow — based on the wealth and prosperity it created with the unconditional help of the West before the dispute began — and then choosing which presidential candidate to support based on that would be an act of futility.
It will be difficult to find a peaceful resolution to the chaotic situation in Hong Kong now that Beijing insists that foreign forces are meddling and tries to show that it is the protector of the “one country, two systems” model.
This kind of contradictory propaganda is a classic example of how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) manipulates its public and fights outside forces.
Beijing is crying thief and blaming someone else for its own actions: At a news conference last week, a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman accused the US of creating the anti-extradition movement.
The US Department of State retorted that Beijing’s claim was “ridiculous,” adding: “It is not credible to think that millions of people are being manipulated to stand for a free and open society.”
In Taiwan, Ko has parroted Beijing’s line, saying: “I know that China has accused the CIA of being involved.”
After Beijing revoked permission for independent Chinese tourists to visit Taiwan, Han said: “Do not assume that the Democratic Progressive Party represents all Taiwanese.”
It is obvious that crying thief has become the code word for mobilization in Taiwan.
It is time that all Taiwanese took some time to reflect and gain a clear understanding of the fact that the US-China trade dispute and the anti-extradition protests in Hong Kong are proving revelatory ahead of next year’s presidential and legislative elections.
If we are not to fall under the sway of China’s digital dictatorship, we must reject Beijing’s Manchurian candidates who parrot the CCP’s line.
If we do not, we will dig the grave of Taiwan as we use our democratic rights at the ballot box.
Translated by Edward Jones
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