28 October 2016
This image of pop star Chou Tzu-yu holding a Taiwanese flag caused a stir on social media. Last year, She was forced to apologize for showing the flag on television during a performance in South Korea. Photo: Facebook
This image of pop star Chou Tzu-yu holding a Taiwanese flag caused a stir on social media. Last year, She was forced to apologize for showing the flag on television during a performance in South Korea. Photo: Facebook

Beijing dilemma: Whose flag is it anyway?

The Chinese Communist Party finds itself in a dilemma: should it rejoice over the decline this year in the number of Hong Kong people who commemorated the anniversary of the June 4, 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square or should it be more worried that many of those who did not take part don’t consider themselves Chinese anymore?

For 27 years, Hong Kong every year has marked the bloody anniversary with a candlelight vigil in Victoria Park.

In recent years, however, attendance has been dropping, with organizers this year saying that 125,000 people had taken part, compared with 135,000 last year and 180,000 the year before that.

Police figures are always much smaller and, this year, the police say that 21,800 people had taken part — less than half the 46,600 figure last year, which itself was less than half of the 99,500 in 2014.

Regardless of whose figures you believe, the trend is clear: fewer people now take part, even though the numbers are still substantial.

The Communist party is no doubt puzzled and unsure what to do.

From its standpoint, is it better to have people who are anti-communist but consider themselves to be Chinese, or pro-democracy and not Chinese? The choice seems clear.

In a way, events in Hong Kong are reminiscent of those that occurred in Taiwan decades ago.

During the time of Chiang Kai-shek, who moved his Kuomintang government to the island after losing the Chinese civil war in 1949, there was no question that he considered himself a Chinese patriot.

For decades, Chiang insisted that his troops would one day stage a counterattack on the mainland and re-establish the Republic of China’s capital in Nanjing.

For his pains, he was vilified by the communists and considered to be Public Enemy Number One.

After his death in 1976 and that of his son, Chiang Ching-kuo, in 1988, Taiwan gave up the quest to recover the mainland.

Today, Beijing is worried that people in Taiwan don’t even consider themselves to be Chinese.

Again, given the choice, Beijing, logically speaking, should prefer people in Taiwan to be Chinese, even if they are anti-communist.

That is to say, a Taiwan that threatens to counterattack the mainland is preferable to a Taiwan that doesn’t identify with China and doesn’t care about China.

Why, then, does the mainland keep putting pressure on people who profess to be Chinese into giving up their symbols of Chineseness?

Beijing may not realize it but that’s what it’s doing.

The flag of Chiang Kai-shek is clearly a Chinese flag.

In fact, Beijing today uses the Nationalist-drawn dotted line in the South China Sea to justify its claims and, in doing so, refers to the line as having been drawn by the Chinese government.

Similarly, the Republic of China government of Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek, who staged a revolution to overthrow the Manchus, ended up by recognizing the Manchus as Chinese.

After all, not recognizing Manchus as Chinese would have meant giving up large chunks of China, including Xinjiang, Tibet and the Manchurian homeland.

Today, the Communist Party needs to relearn this lesson; it needs to be inclusive. The flag that is flown in Taiwan today is a Chinese flag, not a foreign flag.

To reject that flag is, in effect, to separate Taiwan from China.

Again, from Beijing’s perspective, is it better to have a Chinese flag waving over Taiwan or a non-Chinese flag? Again, the answer is obvious.

Yet, last year, a Taiwan singer, Chou Tzu-yu, came under tremendous pressure to reject the Republic of China flag.

The 16-year-old singer, who was performing in South Korea and who had shown the flag on television, was forced to make an abject public apology in which she said: “There is only one China, the two sides of the strait are one, and I have always felt proud to be Chinese.”

Those are political statements that a teenage singer should not have been forced to utter.

Beijing now insists that Taiwan’s new leader, President Tsai Ing-wen, support the “1992 consensus”.

But what, after all, does that mean? It means that Taiwan is free to consider “one China” to be the Republic of China, complete with its red flag with a blue upper left quadrant within which is a white sun with 12 triangular rays.

That is a Chinese flag. Anyone waving that flag presumably considers himself or herself to be Chinese. To criticize anyone for showing that flag may result in a non-Chinese flag being waved instead. Is that what Beijing wants?

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Frank Ching opened The Wall Street Journal’s Bureau in China in 1979. He is now a Hong Kong-based writer on Chinese affairs.

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