Did it ever occur to anyone that Hong Kong, the city in which we take such pride, would one day become the main theme of a political campaign elsewhere?
Although the recent “nine-in-one elections”, the biggest in Taiwan’s history, ended with a landslide victory for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), public opinion focused mainly on the crushing defeat of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT).
Perhaps it is because the KMT’s major losses in the local elections had far more profound political implications than the DPP’s triumph.
In fact, many observers believed that all it took for the DPP to gain its easy election victory was to run a propaganda campaign, featuring Hong Kong, against the KMT.
Among the numerous popular election slogans adopted during the campaign, one that deserves our attention was “Voting for the KMT means Taiwan will become Hong Kong”.
The concept can be traced back to the Sunflower movement in March this year.
One of the slogans embraced by the students occupying the legislature was “Today’s Hong Kong, tomorrow’s Taiwan”.
I am not going into detail about the Sunflower movement here. All I want to do is briefly raise a couple of points.
Firstly, the “Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement” (CSSTA) between Taiwan and the mainland was the issue underlying the movement.
Many Taiwanese believed the CSSTA would do more harm than good to the local political and economic environment. Even if there was any economic merit to it, they felt, the agreement would benefit only big companies at the expense of the public.
Secondly, the event that triggered the movement was the KMT’s decision to push the CSSTA bill through the legislature it controlled without proper scrutiny.
That eventually led to the occupation of the legislature by students, who argued it had failed to play its “goal-keeping” role and demanded a re-examination of the bill.
Hong Kong doesn’t have the CSSTA, but we have something that closely resembles it: the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA) between the mainland and Hong Kong.
After all these years since it was signed in 2003, the people of Hong Kong know its pros and cons only too well.
One of the negative consequences of CEPA is that although the economic data for the city has improved, the life of the average Hongkonger has turned sour.
Consider that the average starting salary for local graduates has declined from 10 years ago; in itself it would be reason enough for the Taiwanese public to oppose the CSSTA.
Hong Kong’s legislature is also manipulated by the pro-government establishment. It not only fails to oversee the government but also, on certain occasions, aids and abets tyranny (for example, when it approved the funding requested by the administration for its Northeast New Territories development program).
Although the events that triggered Taiwan’s Sunflower movement and Hong Kong’s Umbrella movement were different, the two movements shared the same nature, and Taiwan’s experience can provide a reference for us when observing post-Umbrella movement developments.
One thing the two movements had in common was that they both arose as a result of collaboration between the local government and the mainland government in an attempt to introduce policies and systems that were deemed harmful to society: in Taiwan, it was the CSSTA, while in Hong Kong it was fake universal suffrage under the National People’s Congress Standing Committee’s framework.
Both were civil disobedience movements led by students, while political parties took a back seat.
As a result of the movements, students have become much more concerned about politics and have attempted to use their power to influence political factions in the establishment.
In Taiwan, the younger generation cast their votes in the “nine-in-one elections” and harshly punished the ruling KMT, which was defeated so heavily that “it only has the presidential residence left”.
Meanwhile in Hong Kong, young people are mobilizing their peers to register as voters, but whether they can punish the SAR government and pro-government parties remains to be seen.
After all, the election system in Hong Kong has yet to become wholly democratic, and even though the level of public grievance against the government can be seen in election results, the people are still unable to fundamentally change the city’s political structure.
The government still remains mindful only of the central authorities but neglectful of the local public, and the Legislative Council is still controlled by the pro-Beijing establishment.
There will not be any real change unless the leaders in Beijing thoroughly comprehend the transformation brought about by the Umbrella movement, truly understand the new political and social conditions in Hong Kong, and then come up with proper and suitable policies.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 9.
Translation by Alan Lee.
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