Why HK will emerge as a topic in Taiwan's 2020 presidential race

June 12, 2019 18:52
Terry Gou speaks during a media briefing at the Kuomintang party headquarters in Taipei on April 17. The Foxconn Group boss threw his hat into Taiwan’s 2020 presidential race, shaking up the contest. Photo: Bloomberg

Taiwan's past few presidential races had pretty much nothing to do with Hong Kong, with the city only coming into the picture due to observation trips made by some of its politicians and political observers, who would go to the island to get first-hand experience of a “genuine election”.

But now, as the island heads towards its 2020 polls, we may see a somewhat different situation, given that a substantial degree of “Hong Kong element” seems to be seeping into the bitter contest between the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the opposition Kuomintang (KMT).

Simply put, the Hong Kong issue is likely to become one of the key themes of the upcoming Taiwan presidential election.

Comments made by Taiwanese political heavyweights and presidential hopefuls on the June 9 mass protest march in Hong Kong point to such a possibility.

On Monday, Taiwan's incumbent leader, Tsai Ing-wen, weighed in on the matter by expressing her support for the Hong Kong people’s pursuit of liberties and democracy.

Tsai also reiterated that she would never accept “one country, two systems”, and vowed that as long as she is president, she will do her utmost to defend the sovereignty of Taiwan.

As far as her party primaries rival and former premier William Lai Ching-te is concerned, he also wrote on social media that China’s act of violating universal values shows the deceptive and hollow nature of “one country, two systems”, and that Taiwan would never accept such a framework, and refuse to become the next Tibet or the next Hong Kong.

So while the two DPP presidential frontrunners have both taken a loud and clear stand on “one country, two systems”, what about the KMT hopefuls?

Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu, who is currently leading the KMT pack of contenders in the polls, at first responded that he did not know the facts when he was asked by reporters about his views on the June 9 march in Hong Kong.

The seemingly evasive answer immediately put Han in the firing line, with critics accusing him of not daring to defy the mainland.

As a result, the presidential hopeful had to issue a clarifying statement afterwards asserting that the overwhelming majority of the Taiwanese people believe that the “one country, two systems” principle in Hong Kong would never be applicable to Taiwan no matter whether it works or not.

Terry Gou Tai-ming, another KMT presidential frontrunner and the chairman of Foxconn Technology Group, seized on Han’s ambiguity over the issue, and mocked that the Kaohsiung mayor must have been blinded by some specific media outlets.

Gou claimed that a media outlet controlled by the mainland’s Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council was guiding some presidential candidates of Taiwan.

The specific media outlet to which Gou was referring was the Want Want China Times Media Group, whose owner, Taiwanese tycoon Tsai Eng-meng, is known to have had differences with Gou over the years.

The newspaper run by Tsai’s Want Want Group, the China Times, has been allegedly pro-mainland, and been recently endorsing Han’s bid for presidency while being highly critical of Gou.

With regard to the June 9 march, Gou stressed that Hong Kong is a failed example of “one country, two systems”.

Ever since Beijing proposed a one country, two systems model for Taiwan so as to achieve cross-strait reunification, the people of Taiwan have been keeping a close eye on what is going on in Hong Kong.

Given that, what’s been happening in Hong Kong in recent months is increasingly putting the Taiwanese people off the one country, two systems option.

The ongoing Sino-US trade war and Trump’s escalating containment policy against China will have profound yet delicate implications for Taiwan.

It is because Washington is perfectly aware that it can gain substantial leverage over Beijing by playing the “Taiwan card”.

And it is exactly against this background that the US Congress has passed the Taiwan Travel Act and the Taiwan Assurance Act, in order to enhance relations with Taipei.

As far as Taiwan is concerned, politicians and leaders regardless of their political affiliation are predominantly leaning towards the United States.

Under such a political atmosphere, it would be not easy for the idea of “one country, two systems” to find an audience on the island.

No matter what, Hong Kong and its problems are increasingly likely to become a reference point and a key debate topic among the Taiwanese presidential contenders over the next half year.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 11

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal