Why HK-Taipei relations could get increasingly complicated

December 24, 2019 15:57
Taiwanese flags are seen during a rally in Hong Kong earlier this year against a government plan to overhaul the extradition law. As Taiwan heads to a presidential election, the events in HK have become an underlying theme. Photo: AFP

Last Saturday, two opposing mass rallies took place simultaneously in the city of Kaohsiung in Taiwan. One was a gathering in support of Han Kuo-yu, the city mayor who is contesting Taiwan's 2020 presidential contest as a representative of the island's opposition Kuomintang (KMT), while the other was against Han and his bid for presidency.

The turnout of the two rallies were closely compared by the Taiwanese media in order to measure the popularity of Han, who is now falling far behind his rival, President Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), in the polls.

Over the years, the affairs of Hong Kong had remained basically irrelevant in the presidential elections in Taiwan.

However, the 2020 election is completely different, in large part due to the anti-extradition bill movement that kicked off in Hong Kong in June.

The anti-extradition bill saga has miraculously resuscitated Tsai’s initially rock-bottom popularity and put her in a substantial lead in the presidential race.

Meanwhile, the ongoing unrest in Hong Kong has created huge pressure on Han, largely because of his pro-mainland stance in the public eye and people's perception of what’s been going on in Hong Kong.

Thanks to her skillful campaign strategy of playing the “Hong Kong card”, among other tactics, Tsai has managed to turn the tables on Han in terms of approval ratings by successfully building her image as the “guardian” of Taiwan’s democratic values.

Judging from opinion poll results, Tsai’s re-election chances seem to be promising unless Han is able to pull off a stunning miracle over the next two weeks or so.

In the meantime, the United States is also playing a highly influential role in the upcoming Taiwanese presidential election.

Earlier, the US Congress had passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for the fiscal year of 2020, which was signed into law by President Donald Trump last Friday.

Under the NDAA 2020, the Director of US National Intelligence will have to submit a detailed report to Congress as to whether Beijing may have interfered in the Taiwanese presidential election.

The report has to be submitted within 45 days after the election.

The law also requires the Pentagon to send warships to sail through the Taiwan Strait on a regular basis and provide opportunities for Taipei to take part in military exercises with the US.

As the US is determined to have a bigger say in both Hong Kong and Taiwan affairs, it isn’t hard to imagine that HK-Taipei relations could get increasingly complicated in the coming days under growing American influence.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec 23

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal