26 October 2016
The Taipei Times suggested that Zhang Zhijun (left), at his meeting with Andrew Hsia, behaved like an official on a provincial tour. Photo: Reuters
The Taipei Times suggested that Zhang Zhijun (left), at his meeting with Andrew Hsia, behaved like an official on a provincial tour. Photo: Reuters

Taiwan glimpses the HK nightmare in its own future

Taiwan people are watching with concern and anxiety the dialogue of the deaf between the Beijing government and the pro-democrats of Hong Kong.

Neither side is willing to make concessions, and the election reform package will not be passed.

What they see is a possible trailer for their own future.

Suppose Taiwan also became a special administrative region, as Beijing has offered, and one of its parties negotiates for a widening of the electoral franchise and receives a similar brush-off – it has no leverage to wield.

The Taiwanese got a sharp reminder of this reality in late April when Zhang Zhijun, head of the mainland’s Taiwan Affairs Office, went to the island of Kinmen for a meeting with his Taiwanese counterpart, Andrew Hsia Li-yan, head of the Mainland Affairs Council.

They talked about the proposed establishment of casinos on Taiwan-held islands, like Kinmen, just off Fujian province.

In July 2012, 57 per cent of the voters on the Taiwanese island of Matsu opted in favor of a government plan to build a casino.

Las Vegas players including Las Vegas Sands Corp. and MGM Resorts International are among the many companies keen on setting up a resort in Taiwan, given its close proximity to China and other large markets like South Korea and Japan.

Matsu is home to 8,000 people and 30 minutes from Fujian by ferry.

“The islands should not build casinos,” said Zhang.

If they did, Beijing would ban its citizens from going there.

Taiwan’s people were stunned.

While it bans gambling on the mainland, Beijing has encouraged construction of casinos in Macau, where turnover is now six times more than that of Las Vegas.

It allows its citizens to fly to Mongolia, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore and other countries to gamble.

But why not Taiwan? What right did Zhang have to issue such an order?

The pro-independence Taiwan Solidarity Union said: “Zhang is interfering in our sovereign affairs. The mainland must not bring its dictatorship form of government to other places. He is threatening the Taiwan people.”

What angered them most was Zhang’s tone, his assumption that he had the right to tell them what to do.

He would never tell South Korean, Singaporean or American officials not to build casinos in their countries.

When Hsia said that his people were suspicious of and unhappy with China’s National Security Law, Zhang cut short the topic, saying that any discussion of it ended there.

The body language was striking.

Zhang was self-confident and assertive – he is a mandarin from the central government.

A civil servant in Taiwan sensitive to public opinion and an aggressive media, Hsia was humble and soft-spoken.

It made Taiwanese think of the many rounds of talks between the pan-democrats of Hong Kong and officials of the central government since the decision on electoral reform handed down Aug. 31 by the National People’s Congress.

Nothing can be changed or revised, the officials said; your only option is to accept the decision and welcome it.

In an editorial Friday, the Taipei Times said the real ruler of Hong Kong is not Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying but the director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and officials in Zhongnanhai.

That was why Leung was unmoved throughout the Occupy Central protests last year.

“China ignores cross-strait differences in the political, economic and social systems,” the newspaper said.

“It is incapable of understanding that values such as liberty, human rights, equality and the rule of law differ between the two sides.

“Many Taiwanese are increasingly unhappy with Beijing, and opinion polls show that Taiwanese feel distant from China.

“If Chinese officials visiting Taiwan behave as if they are here on provincial tours and make irresponsible remarks about Taiwanese affairs, the nation may soon be ready for its own version of the Hong Kong nightmare.”

Previously, mainland officials have told their Taiwan counterparts of their opposition to casinos on the offshore islands; but they did it discreetly and did not attach the threat of cutting off the “three small links”, which bring millions of dollars in revenue to the tourist industry of the islands.

So why did Zhang make the threat public this time?

Beijing believes that it is winning the war in Taiwan by peaceful means.

The island is increasingly dependent on the mainland for exports, investment and tourists.

Taiwanese save billions of renminbi in their banks; the stock market is likely to be opened up to mainland investors.

Mainland investment in Taiwan’s real estate, industry and service sector is likely to increase over the next five years.

When you lose control over your economy, how can you be independent?

– Contact us at [email protected]


Hong Kong-based journalist and author. He had worked as a correspondent for the South China Morning Post in Beijing and Shanghai.

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