During a state visit to Nepal on Sunday, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) told Nepali Prime Minister Khagda Prasad Oli that any attempt to drive a wedge between China and its “territories” would “end in crushed bodies and shattered bones,” China Central Television reported.
Xi’s comment was an explicit threat to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters, who have been a thorn in Beijing’s side for months.
The message was plain: If you carry on like this, you will share the same fate as the pro-democracy protesters whose bodies were crushed and bones shattered by the tanks that rolled into Tiananmen Square in 1989.
The comment seemed particularly crass as this year marks the 30th anniversary of the massacre, but more than lacking compassion, it was a strategic blunder: Whenever Beijing interferes in the affairs of Hong Kong — or Taiwan — its leaders only end up making matters worse for themselves.
In 2002, just five years after the handover of Hong Kong from Britain, the Hong Kong Legislative Council, apparently on orders from Beijing, proposed legislation to amend the territory’s Basic Law to prohibit treason, secession, sedition and subversion against the Chinese government.
Panic spread as Hong Kongers justifiably feared the bill would sound the death knell on freedom of speech. The public mobilized and an estimated half a million or more Hong Kongers marched through the streets in protest on July 1, 2003 — a watershed moment in Hong Kong’s democracy movement.
In 2012, the authorities proposed amendments to insert patriotism classes into Hong Kong’s school curriculum. Much of society united against what was viewed as an attempt by Beijing to brainwash Hong Hong’s youth. It also led to the formation of the student campaign group, Scholarism, headed up by then-15-year-old Joshua Wong (黃之鋒). Two years later, Wong was back spearheading the “Umbrella movement,” after Beijing went back on its commitment to introduce universal suffrage.
Xi is interfering again this year, attempting through Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) to introduce a law that would have allowed any Hong Kong resident to be extradited to China.
Beijing’s meddling is counterproductive and a strategic blunder. All the Chinese government needed to do was scrupulously adhere to Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” model — and Taiwan’s pro-independence movement would have been effectively neutered.
Beijing has been similarly tone-deaf to Taiwan, most famously firing missiles in 1996 into waters near it to prevent then-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) from becoming Taiwan’s first directly elected president. The strategy backfired.
Today, Chinese warships and military aircraft regularly conduct encirclement drills around Taiwan in a crude attempt at psychological warfare.
With Xi’s militarization of the South China Sea and brazen cyberespionage worldwide, he might have moved his chess pieces too early, prematurely waking the US lion from its slumber and alerting the whole world to Beijing’s nefarious intentions. In years to come, these actions might also be viewed by historians as major strategic blunders.
That is not to say that in Taiwan, and elsewhere, people should be complacent, but perhaps China’s leaders are not the formidable strategic geniuses that the outside world takes them for.
Having surrounded himself with a coterie of yes-men, the arrogant Xi and his regime might be weaker than the world thinks. Taiwan — and Hong Kong — must stay the course and play the long game.
Having returned to the UK late last year and with a Taiwanese spouse remaining in Taiwan, I have been afforded the chance to compare and contrast the UK and Taiwanese governments’ responses to the COVID-19 crisis. My early conclusions are that Taiwan benefits from a rational, competent government, which quickly recognizes, adapts to and confronts large-scale disasters. It is led by a government that does more than just talk of respecting democracy and human rights, one that is scrutinized and responds to criticism, one that is concerned about public opinion, and one that is used to dealing with emergencies on
The “Wuhan pneumonia” outbreak has become a pandemic, but many countries have yet to come to grips with the worsening severity of this medical crisis. Historian Robert Peckham has studied how the ecology of deadly diseases has changed from the late 19th century until today and, in his 2016 book titled Epidemics in Modern Asia highlights the intrinsic link between global connectivity and emerging infections. The frequency of outbreaks — from SARS in 2003 to swine flu in 2009 and today’s COVID-19 — and their rapid rate of transmission owe much to globalization. Better and cheaper transportation and communications technology have empowered
Early last month, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) was elected party chairman, winning with a seven-to-three majority over pro-Beijing former Taipei mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌), a two-time KMT vice chairman. Chiang’s victory has been interpreted as a generational change and the beginning of major party reform. In his inauguration speech on March 9, Chiang did not mention the so-called “1992 consensus.” Analysts believe that his most urgent task is to attract more young people to the party and win voter trust, and that he does not care about Beijing’s reaction. After joining the party chairmanship by-election, Chiang made his