As Hong Kongers hold the largest-scale protests seen since the handover to China in 1997, demanding that Beijing allow full and open elections for Hong Kong’s chief executive, Taiwanese have been asking themselves whether they are also prepared to stand up to China when the nation’s democracy is in danger.
No one can say without a shadow of a doubt that the answer is yes.
The student-led Sunflower movement in March and April called for a legally binding mechanism to oversee cross-strait negotiations. This implies that there is a growing awareness among the public of what the President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration’s conduct of cross-strait relations based on the Hong Kong model entails. Nevertheless, it seems what many fear, that “Hong Kong’s present could be Taiwan’s future,” is still an inconceivable outcome for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).
In an apparent move to mitigate the negative effects on Taiwanese of China’s failure to honor the promises made to Hong Kong in the “one country, two systems” framework — a new testament of intolerance of democracy in China’s territory — the Ma administration has been trying to sway public opinion toward its arguments that Taiwan’s situation is entirely unrelated to that of Hong Kong.
Two main points have been raised in recent statements by Ma, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), and a spate of op-eds published by the state-owned Central News Agency (CNA).
First, they said that the Republic of China (ROC) has been an independent, sovereign nation with a long history of elections, unlike Hong Kong, which is officially back under China’s control.
Second, the ROC did not acquiesce to the “one country, two systems” policy and would never accept the arrangement enforced on Hong Kong.
The world has continued to urge Beijing to act as a responsible global stakeholder and abide by the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law of Hong Kong, and more importantly, to embrace international norms and grant genuine democratic reform to the territory.
However, the arguments coming from the Ma administration have been heading in the opposite direction.
There has not been condemnation of Beijing from the government over its repression of the democratic rights Hong Kongers have long fought for. The government has offered little but generalities whenever it has addressed the issue.
As the Ma administration continues its attempt to convince the public that Taiwan cannot suffer the same fate as that plaguing Hong Kong, and the public sees the way Beijing is handling the ongoing protests in Hong Kong, anti-China sentiment in Taiwan is likely to be inflamed. There is a clear attempt to mitigate this on the part of the Ma administration.
Even though there are differences between Taiwan and Hong Kong, as pointed out by the Ma administration, it does not mean that Taiwan is more capable of determining its own future than Hong Kong is.
Beijing has managed to cement its influence on Taiwan by using its economic clout since the 2010 signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, just as it has tightened its grip on Hong Kong since the 2003 signing of the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement.
It is Taiwan’s increasing economic dependency on China that is making it increasingly susceptible to Chinese influence and as vulnerable as Hong Kong is.
Taiwan faces another challenge — the cross-strait relationship is generally regarded as an issue between Taiwan and China, whereas the world is watching Hong Kong. The reasons for this are worth considering, but the key is that how Taiwan reacts to Hong Kong protests are important not only to Hong Kong, but also to its own future.
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