Hong Kong recently elected a new Legislative Council amid protests against the government’s attempts to introduce a pro-Chinese national education program into the educational curriculum, which protesters say amounts to brainwashing students. From the recent tension between Hong Kong and China, it is easy to see that after 15 years, the honeymoon period for the “one country, two systems” framework is over and relations are now in dire straits.
Beijing’s unification plans have always connected Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, be it in policy or in the names of institutions. As a result, Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macau policies have become a litmus test for its future Taiwan policies. After Hong Kong and Macau allowed the entry of individual Chinese tourists, Taiwan soon followed suit. When Hong Kong and Macau signed the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement with China, Taiwan and China signed the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement in a similar fashion.
In China’s subjective view of the world, once the “one country, two systems” framework was successfully implemented in Hong Kong and Macau, it would serve as an example to Taiwan, which of course would be the next target of this political model.
US psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed a theory of self-actualization, which has become known as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. He believed that the needs of humans run progressively from lower to higher needs: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem and self-actualization. Beijing for a long time now has provided large economic support and injected funds into Hong Kong to satisfy the physiological needs of Hong Kongers in the hope that they will begin to identify more with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in a political sense.
This concept is basically founded on the Marxist idea that an economic base supports a political superstructure and the hope is that as Hong Kong residents become more economically dependent on China, they will adhere more closely to Beijing in the political and ideological spheres, the superstructure.
However, Beijing has overlooked the fact that Hong Kong residents are worried that China’s talk about national security will jeopardize their freedom and rule of law will in the long run and harm their need for safety. Furthermore, the arrogant attitude displayed by Chinese tourists in Hong Kong and Beijing’s increasingly domineering behavior have combined to damage the self-respect — or, to use Maslow’s terminology, esteem — of Hong Kongers.
In addition, the reckless promotion of Chinese national education and the lack of a decision regarding whether direct elections for Hong Kong chief executive will be allowed by 2017 have also made it more difficult for Hong Kongers to achieve self-actualization.
These issues have made the differences between Beijing and Hong Kong increasingly obvious. When Beijing realized that the identification with China among Hong Kongers had weakened rather than increased 15 years after the territory’s handover to China, it was only natural that Beijing would attempt to find a fundamental solution by introducing Chinese national education into Hong Kong’s school curriculum.
However, this has instead created more doubts in the minds of Hong Kongers, initiating a vicious cycle.
The Hong Kong government’s current policy of compromise has temporarily calmed the situation, but if Beijing does not change its stance, the conflict between China and Hong Kong will not stop. When the Taiwanese see the protests going on in Hong Kong, they feel lucky to not have been “handed over” to China and thus be able to maintain their independence, and this will undoubtedly make it even more difficult for “one country, two systems” to gain acceptance in Taiwan. This will probably make it even more difficult for Beijing to succeed in its attempts to apply the Hong Kong or Macau model to Taiwan.
Given Hong Kong’s close geographic relationship to China and its dependence on the Chinese economy, it is worth noting how Hong Kong residents are identifying less and less as “Chinese” and are instead viewing themselves as Hong Kongers.
I am sure Taiwanese could relate when Hong Kongers recently raised the British colonial flag during a protest, because there has been debate and conflict in Taiwan over the issue of how Taiwanese view Chinese.
This is also the main reason why Beijing is hoping to use cross-strait cultural exchanges and the signing of a cross-strait agreement on cultural exchanges to dispel chaos and restore peace. However, the special feelings that Taiwanese harbor toward the Japanese colonial era and their friendly attitude toward Japan are hard for China to accept.
Since its implementation, the “one country, two systems” framework has not increased Hong Kongers’ trust in Beijing, but instead decreased it and caused Hong Kongers to put their guard up. If this is how things are in Hong Kong, Beijing has no reason to expect that Taiwanese will suddenly trust China just because Beijing offers Taiwan a few economic concessions.
It is safe to say that Taiwan’s preoccupation with self-protection will continue to exist for a long time to come.
Fan Shih-ping is a professor in the Graduate Institute of Political Science at National Taiwan Normal University.
Translated by Drew Cameron