Taiwanese see Hong Kong and fear for their future

October 03, 2018 14:08
Public opinion in Taiwan is sharply divided between those who support integration into the mainland economy and those who believe Beijing is intent on taking over the island by any means possible, including military force. Photo: Xinhua

On July 6, 1997, then Taiwan president Lee Teng-hui invited foreign media to announce to the world that his people did not want “one country, two systems”.

Twenty-one years later, that is still the offer on the table from Beijing – but Hong Kong is, for many Taiwan people, the reason not to accept the offer.

“When I go to Hong Kong, I feel sad,” said Lee Hsu-ming, a school teacher. “Its people cannot vote as we can and their freedoms, in the media and in the right to speak, are being reduced. Many of the small shops and restaurants have closed, to make way for large stores selling gold, jewelry and luxury goods for tourists, not local people.”

“Hong Kong is in decline,” said Liang Shao-guo, a taxi driver. “Mainland cities are replacing it in different sectors of the economy. The Communists are strangling its freedoms. We fear for our future. Is Hong Kong today what Taiwan will be tomorrow?”

The banning of the Hong Kong National Party was the most recent shock to public opinion in Taiwan. With a population of only 23 million, Taiwan is a cacophony of dozens of political parties and interest groups, arguing fiercely with each other through 80 television stations, the radio, social media and in public meetings. Many complain it is "too free" and that this fighting prevents the government implementing needed laws and regulations.

One of the most remarkable examples of this free expression was in a Buddhist temple in Changhua county in southwest Taiwan. In 2012, a businessman named Wei Ming-jen took over the temple and turned it into a shrine for the Chinese Communist Party.  He adorned it with the flag of the People's Republic and large portraits of party leaders, including President Xi Jinping.

In late September this year, a local magistrate ordered the demolition of the structures Wei had built at the temple, not because he was promoting the Communist Party but because they had been illegally built. In Taiwan, it is legal to show such flags and portraits and advocate Communism.

It is impossible to imagine the Hong Kong government allowing someone to take over a building, cover it with Taiwan's flags and promote the ideology of the “Three Principles of the People” – and completely unimaginable in the mainland.

In March 2014 in Taiwan, the student-led Sunflower Movement mobilized thousands of students and ordinary people to oppose the Cross-Straits Trade Service Agreement; they occupied the Legislative Yuan, the first time it had been taken over by the public. The agreement would have opened more than 60 service sectors in Taiwan to mainland investment.

The protest succeeded in preventing the implementation of the agreement. It was one of the inspirations of the Umbrella movement in Hong Kong in the autumn of 2014. Despite 79 days of protest, however, the Hong Kong protests failed to change Beijing’s decision not to allow universal suffrage in the special administrative region.

Public opinion in Taiwan is sharply divided down the middle. Half – the supporters of the Kuomintang and other "blue" parties – believe that Taiwan’s economy is too small to survive without integration into mainland China's economy. Therefore, it must make an accommodation with the mainland, which Ma Ying-jeou did between 2008 and 2016.

The other half sees the mainland as hostile and attempting to take over the island by any means possible, including military force. They wish to reduce their dependence, economic and otherwise, on the mainland. This is the view of many in the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

The DPP view is presented by the Liberty Times and Taipei Times. In an editorial on the high-speed train from Hong Kong to Guangzhou, the Taipei Times said that the distrust of the Hong Kong people toward the co-location scheme in the station was well-founded.

“Beijing’s pernicious erosion of Hong Kong’s presumed guarantees under the ‘one country, two systems’ model can in no way recommend it to Taiwanese,” it said.

Tzou Jing-wen, editor of Liberty Times, went further. “China is a mortal foe of Taiwan – a dictatorial regime that is determined to crush it, no matter whether it calls itself ‘Taiwan’ or the ‘Republic of China’,” he wrote in an article demanding strong measures against Beijing’s cyber attacks and fake news.

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A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.