22 October 2018
A white paper issued by Beijing on Taiwan in 2000 has only helped pro-independence groups on the island.
A white paper issued by Beijing on Taiwan in 2000 has only helped pro-independence groups on the island.

China’s white paper on HK: Unlearnt lessons from Taiwan

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. That line from Charles Dickens’ 1859 novel “A Tale of Two Cities” can best describe Hong Kong’s current situation as Beijing seeks to tighten its grip on the former British colony by asserting its authority and supervision powers.

The State Council, China’s cabinet, on Tuesday issued a so-called white paper on Hong Kong policy, reminding the special administrative region that its high degree of autonomy “is not an inherent power, but one that comes solely from the authorization by the central leadership.”

The document, which was Beijing’s first white paper on the “One Country, Two Systems”, marked a clear attempt by the central leadership to draw a line on the limits that Hong Kong enjoys with regard to democracy and political reforms.  

As China seeks to safeguard its interests and sovereignty, the unprecedented white paper could actually fuel further discontent among Hong Kong people towards Beijing.

One has to only look at what happened in Taiwan in the past after China issued a white paper on the island.

Taiwan people said “No” to Beijing’s threat in 2000 as they voted in favor of pro-independent candidate Chen Shui-bian in the presidential election, after Beijing issued White Paper calling on the islanders not to embrace independence groups.

Fourteen years later, Beijing is telling Hong Kong people not to walk away from the One Country umbrella. The white paper reminds Hongkongers that their city is under Chinese control and that they should face up to the reality.

The document released on Tuesday focuses on the implementation of the “One Country Two Systems” in Hong Kong since 1997, when Britain handed over the city back to Chinese rule. The document states that Hong Kong’s freedom to govern itself is subject to Beijing’s authority, and urged people to shed confused or lopsided notions about the Basic Law that governs Hong Kong.

What Beijing’s top leaders are concerned about most is the demand by some groups in Hong Kong for more autonomy and political reforms in the city.

The ongoing debate surrounding Hong Kong’s 2017 chief executive election is a core issue. Beijing insists on its own version of democracy by screening out anti-China candidates in the election, while activists in Hong Kong are fighting for a public nomination mechanism to enable candidates from the opposition camp to run for the top job.

Occupy Central, a group that promotes true universal suffrage, will host a civil referendum from June 20 to 22 to enable the public to vote on the nomination methods for the candidates in the chief executive election. Several prominent citizens, including Cardinal Joseph Zen — a former Bishop of Hong Kong– have urged the public to actively participate in the civil referendum.

Beijing feels the referendum could be used by opposition groups to challenge China’s control over Hong Kong. As the vote may be the only tool that Hongkongers have to express their demand for true democracy, people could voice their opposition to proposals seen soft on Beijing.

That’s the reason why Beijing will be sending two senior government officials responsible for Hong Kong affairs to the city on June 19, one day before the civil referendum begins. The officials will explain the issues outlined in the white paper as well as convey the latest messages from the top leaders. The initiative, ultimately, is aimed at telling Hong Kong people who the real boss is.

Now, going by the experience in Taiwan, can anyone say that Beijing has learnt its lessons?

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EJ Insight writer

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