Why more Hong Kong people are supporting Taiwan independence

August 10, 2016 15:25
Taiwan enjoys a democratic system in which pro-independence activists and those calling for peaceful reunification with China can both voice out their views in the streets. Photo: Reuters

Under the one-China principle, Hong Kong people are not supposed to support Taiwan independence, or recognize Taiwan as a sovereign nation independent of China.

However, they continue to admire Taiwan's culture and society, along with its democratic form of government.

When there is an election in Taiwan, thousands of Hong Kong people visit the island to witness democracy in action, to share in the wonderful feeling of being able to elect their own leaders.

Many Hong Kong people, in fact, wish the day will come when they, too, will be able to elect their own leaders without any interference from Beijing.

While Beijing insists that Taiwan is a province of China, which will be sooner or later be reunified with the motherland, by force if necessary, Hong Kong people, through constant visits to the island and interactions with its people, are changing their view of Taiwan.

Many now realize that Taiwan, for all intents and purposes, has its own government, legislature, judicial system and military.

The Communists never ruled Taiwan, not even for a single day, since they gained power in 1949.

According to the latest survey conducted by the public opinion program of the University of Hong Kong on Taiwan, Hong Kong people who oppose the island's independence continue to outnumber those who support it.

But the number of those opposed to Taiwan independence has significantly fallen to 44 percent, an all-time low since the survey regarding the issue began in 1993.

Hong Kong's net support rate has slightly increased to negative 15 percentage points, which is the highest since October 1994.

Meanwhile, the net support rate for Taiwan rejoining the United Nations stands at positive 14 percentage points.

Based on the survey, which was taken in early August, most Hong Kong people still object to Taiwan independence, but they tend to agree that the island must be given more say on the global stage.

It is also worth noting that the younger the age group of the respondents, the higher their support for Taiwan independence.

According to the survey, 61 percent of the respondents in the 18-29 age group support Taiwan independence, while 56 percent of those aged 50 or above oppose it.

In addition, 81 percent of the respondents in the 18-29 age group are not optimistic about cross-strait reunification.

The HKU survey shows that most Hong Kong youngsters have outgrown the concept of Taiwan being a province of China as they had been taught in school, and have developed an independent mindset.

These young people know that Beijing is untrustworthy and has done everything in its power to undermine Taiwan's efforts to be recognized as a sovereign state.

They can sympathize with Taiwan's political situation as Hong Kong itself has seen its freedoms diminished since the territory was handed over by Britain to China in 1997.

They know that the "one country, two systems" policy that has guided Hong Kong's relations with China has failed, although Beijing is hoping that its success would entice Taiwan to accept the same principle to guide its reunification with the motherland.

According to the survey, the net rate of those who believe "one country, two systems" should be applicable to Taiwan slightly increased to negative 15 percentage points while the net rate of those who are pessimistic about cross-strait reunification stands at negative 29 percentage points.

Again, the younger the respondents, the more pessimistic they are about cross-strait reunification.

Based on their own experience, many Hong Kong people understand why Taiwan is seeking official independence: the island wants to get rid of Beijing's interference in its local affairs.

Newly elected President Tsai Ing-wen knows that the more than 6 million voters who voted for her in the election earlier this year want her to stand up against Beijing despite the latter's offer of substantial economic benefits.

In Hong Kong, many young people feel frustrated because their campaign for genuine universal suffrage ended in failure as Beijing insisted on screening those who want to become the city's next leader.

However, Beijing's plan for the 2017 election was rejected by the Legislative Council, and so Hong Kong will maintain the old system of having an appointed panel of electors choose the next chief executive.

Also, the government has adopted measures to ensure that candidates who advocate independence for Hong Kong are blocked from running in next month's Legco election.

If Hong Kong people long for the democracy enjoyed by Taiwan people, Taiwan people understand the frustration felt by Hong Kong people.

They did suffer the same condition decades ago when the Kuomintang forbade people who did not belong to the ruling party to stand in elections.

But the island transformed itself into a full democracy and showed to the world that they can progress without having to fall under Beijing's "one country, two systems" policy that has proven to be unpalatable in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong people should learn from Taiwan how to pursue the struggle for democracy under the current political framework.

Taiwan's success in attaining democracy was not granted by the authorities, but resulted from the people's fight for what they believe in.

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EJ Insight writer