27 May 2019
The Taiwan election has shown that people on the island value democratic freedoms more than economic goodies from Beijing. Photo: Reuters
The Taiwan election has shown that people on the island value democratic freedoms more than economic goodies from Beijing. Photo: Reuters

Taiwan election: The implications for Hong Kong

The landslide victory of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate Tsai Ing-wen in the Taiwan presidential election had been a foregone conclusion, given her unprecedented popularity throughout the run-up to the polling day.

The Jan. 16 election turned out to be catastrophic for the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) as its nominee Eric Chu lost to Tsai by a whopping 3 million votes and also trailed in almost all traditionally pro-KMT constituencies.

To make things worse, the KMT lost nearly half of its seats in the Taiwan legislature, and will be reduced to a minority in the Legislative Yuan for the first time in the island’s history. It is believed that the KMT will find itself in the wilderness for years to come.

While a lot of political pundits are focused on how cross-strait relations might change after Tsai takes power, I am more interested in exploring the implications of this recent Taiwan election for Hong Kong.

I believe the first implication would be that the landslide victory of the DPP and Tsai’s open rejection of the so-called “1992 consensus” would strip Beijing of its last bit of hope of achieving cross-strait unification through “One Country Two Systems”.

It is because it has become increasingly apparent that Taiwan is on a one-way ticket toward normalizing its status as a country in practice, and there will be minimal prospect of unification by means of “One Country Two Systems” because the overwhelming majority of Taiwanese people simply reject the idea totally.

As far as Hong Kong is concerned, since “One Country Two Systems” has lost its appeal for the Taiwanese people, if it has ever had any at all, it is likely that Beijing will no longer bother to stick to this principle when it comes to dealing with Hong Kong affairs. As a result, it may further tighten its grip on our city in the days ahead without worrying that it might put off Taiwanese people.

The second implication of the Taiwan election for Hong Kong is that the success of the emerging New Power Party and other young, first-time candidates may inspire more young people in Hong Kong to run for public office. I believe Taiwan will gradually replace western powers as the major source of external influence on our politics in the coming days.

In fact the influence is, to a certain extent, mutual. Leaders of the so-called “Sunflower student movement” that took Taiwan by storm and reshaped the political landscape of the island said they were actually inspired by the anti-moral and national education curriculum movement in Hong Kong back in 2012.

The interesting thing is, the Sunflower student movement that took place between March and April in 2014 in turn served to be a catalyst for the outbreak of the Occupy Movement in Hong Kong later in the same year.

The success of the young candidates arising from the Sunflower Movement in the recent Taiwan election and some of the remarkable upsets pulled by the so-called “paratroopers” in the District Council election in Hong Kong last November will certainly encourage more young first-timers to run in the upcoming Legco election.

The third insight we can draw from the recent Taiwan election is that the pan-democrats or anyone opposed to the pro-establishment camp have to be very careful not to be labeled as separatists by pro-Beijing radicals in the course of defending native interest, thereby giving Beijing the excuse to escalate its crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong.

Unlike the US-backed Taiwan, the people of Hong Kong have no one to rely on other than themselves. However, we still have one definite advantage: our international status and our freedom of information, which allow us to draw attention of the international community easily and almost instantly in times of crisis, such as the recent mysterious disappearance of the bookseller Lee Bo.

As long as we don’t resign ourselves to fate and give up hope, I am confident that it won’t be too long before we eventually prevail in our fight for true democracy.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan. 20.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Former Secretary for the Civil Service of the Hong Kong Government

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