19 October 2018
Premier Li Keqiang showered Macau with economic sweeteners during a recent visit, a reward for “good behavior”. Photo: Macau Daily Times
Premier Li Keqiang showered Macau with economic sweeteners during a recent visit, a reward for “good behavior”. Photo: Macau Daily Times

How Beijing might win the battle but lose the war

At one point, Hong Kong was intended by Beijing to be a showcase for “one country, two systems” in an attempt to influence public opinion in Taiwan into supporting reunification with the mainland.

Unfortunately, with the rise of nativism in Hong Kong and mounting cross-border conflict, things turned out to be exactly the opposite.

Hong Kong has become a living reminder for the Taiwanese people of the problems they are likely to face if they reunify with the mainland.

In other words, Hong Kong under Beijing’s sovereignty has become a lesson rather than a showcase for “one country, two systems”.

In contrast, the people of Macau have been more well behaved.

Just look at the warm welcome Premier Li Keqiang was given by the people of Macau during a recent visit and you can tell how “successfully” “one country, two systems” has been implemented in the former Portuguese colony.

It appears Beijing is likely to provide Macau with more economic benefits as a reward in the days ahead.

In comparison, the gross defiance shown by some young Hong Kong lawmakers during their swearing-in ceremony last week further reinforces Beijing’s impression that Hong Kong is nothing more than a spoiled child.

Taiwan is even worse. Independence-leaning President Tsai Ing-wen has stubbornly refused to acknowledge the “1992 consensus” since she took office in May and has insisted that Beijing should respect Taiwan as an independent political entity.

Recently, Beijing seems to have adjusted its policy and toughened its stance toward Hong Kong and Taiwan.

For example, Jiang Dejiang, president of the National People’s Congress, did not bring us any economic sweeteners during a visit in May but Premier Li Keqiang generously offered a basket of goodies to Macau during his recent visit.

These includes designating Macau as an offshore clearing center for the renminbi for Portuguese-speaking countries, setting up the headquarters of the China-Portuguese Speaking Countries Cooperation and Development Fund in Macau and allowing more mainland tourists to visit.

If Hong Kong received a cold shoulder from Beijing, Taiwan got severe punishment.

Beijing slashed the number of mainlanders allowed to visit Taiwan, exacerbating the island’s economic slowdown and also used its influence to belittle Taiwan on the international arena such as barring it from a meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization and, possibly, the APEC summit in November.

In fact, Beijing’s heavy-handedness toward Taiwan in recent months has taken a heavy toll on Tsai’s approval rating.

Beijing’s hard line toward Hong Kong and Taiwan might put them in their place or even force them to their knees in the short run.

But it might also risk further alienating Hong Kong and Taiwanese people in the long run, particularly the younger generation.

What many young people in Hong Kong and Taiwan treasure most is freedom, democracy and social justice rather than economic benefits.

And more oppression from Beijing might lead to more resistance from them.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 14

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal contributor

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