Benny Tai Yiu-ting, an associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong and one of the leaders of the 2014 Occupy movement, probably didn’t expect the fierce backlash from Beijing, the Hong Kong government and the pro-establishment camp against remarks he made in Taiwan over the prospect of Hong Kong independence.
Although it wasn’t the first time he put forward his views on Hong Kong independence, Beijing reacted so strongly to his remarks this time probably because he publicly discussed this sensitive issue in Taiwan.
Quite a number of pro-Beijing figures have been saying that what Beijing fears most is the formation of any sort of alliance between advocates of self-determination in Hong Kong and those supporting Taiwan independence.
As such, the fact that Tai was commenting on such a provocative issue at a public forum on Taiwanese soil – and in the presence of several local pro-independence figures – would almost certainly touch a raw nerve in Beijing and trigger its fierce reaction.
To make things worse, as some pan-democrats believe, Beijing has remained on full alert in recent years against any attempt made by external powers such as the United States to sponsor or endorse separatist activities on Chinese soil.
In particular, US President Donald Trump has recently approved the Taiwan Travel Act, which would facilitate visits and dialogues between senior officials of Washington and Taipei. Moreover, he is rattling his saber at China over trade.
In such a context, it is indeed not difficult to understand why Beijing was so furious about Tai’s remarks.
Some in the pro-establishment camp have also said that if the pan-democrats fail to prevent the controversy over Tai’s remarks from escalating, Beijing may have to pile pressure on the SAR government to enact Article 23 of the Basic Law as soon as possible.
Nevertheless, according to sources, Beijing’s Liaison Office hasn’t directly ordered any unified and coordinated action against Tai at this time.
In fact, a joint statement denouncing Tai issued by 41 pro-Beijing lawmakers was a spontaneous effort initiated by members of the pro-establishment camp themselves, many of whom have gauged Beijing’s uncompromising stance on the issue after the Liaison Office and the Hong Kong and Macau Office of the State Council took a tough stance on Tai’s remarks.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 3
Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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