Hong Kong and Taiwan: Two lessons for Beijing and Carrie Lam

January 16, 2020 08:00
Tsai Ing-wen's supporters celebrate the election results at a rally in Taipei on Jan 11. Taiwanese people, like their HK compatriots, showed Beijing that threats won’t scare them away from voting for freedom, the author observes. Photo: Reuters

By now, everyone in Hong Kong and Taiwan knows about a tale of two elections. It's a true story about freedom. If only people in mainland China could read it too. It would teach them the meaning of free thought.

But mainlanders have no access to this tale. Even if they had, they won’t understand it. They have been taught that free thought means agreeing with the Communist Party. Everything else is fake.

To understand this Orwellian rule, think of Winnie the Pooh. Some mainlanders thought they could freely say President Xi Jinping walked like the cartoon character. They were wrong. The word Pooh and its image are now banned nationwide.

A tale of two elections is a real-life story about freedom, democracy, and standing up to an authoritarian Goliath. It has a happy ending. The people won. But the way the tale that is told in the mainland is that Goliath didn’t actually lose. The people won by cheating with the help of evil foreign forces.

Hong Kong people know better. They know that on November 24, 2019 voters chose freedom by ejecting virtually all pro-China candidates in district council elections. The people of Taiwan did the same thing on January 11, 2020 by re-electing President Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party.

Beijing used threats to manipulate both elections. It warned Hongkongers that supporting democracy candidates meant supporting violent protesters. It intimidated Taiwan voters with threats of an economic squeeze if they supported Tsai. But Hong Kong and Taiwan voters showed Beijing that threats won’t scare them away from voting for freedom.

Hong Kong’s democracy camp won largely because of the protest movement, which also helped Tsai win in a landslide. The two elections made Hongkongers and Taiwanese not only freedom-fighting comrades-in-arms but also democracy blood brothers and sisters. They should thank Xi and Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam for their bonding.

Xi’s threat of force if necessary to unite Taiwan and China with a Hong Kong-style one country, two systems formula enraged most Taiwanese. Lam’s arrogant refusal to heed public opposition to her now-axed extradition bill sparked an anti-government movement that remains popular despite some protests turning violent.

In Taiwan, the one country, two systems formula is stillborn. Taiwan is a full democracy. The people can choose their leaders. It is not illegal to support independence. Tsai’s DPP party is independence-leaning.

Hong Kong is not a full democracy. One country, two systems doesn’t allow the people to choose their top leader. It is illegal to support independence. Election candidates who do so are disqualified. The government has banned the Hong Kong National Party, which supports independence.

A Hong Kong-style one country, two systems formula would mean Taiwan having to give up its full democracy. The DPP would have to be banned, like Hong Kong’s National Party, and its election candidates would have to be disqualified. Xi must be dreaming if he thinks Taiwan would agree to that.

In Hong Kong, one country, two systems is dying even though Beijing insists it’s alive and well. Proof that two systems have become subservient to one country came from the new boss of the liaison office, Luo Huining, who set four new tasks for Lam, the most blatant of which is that he has a shared duty with Lam to solve the city’s problems.

What shared duty? Hong Kong’s domestic problems are for Lam alone to solve. If the liaison office feels it has a role, then it is interfering with local affairs, which is against one country, two systems.

Lam provided further proof on Tuesday that she’s not her own boss when she suddenly announced a HK$10 billion-a-year welfare package containing items she had long opposed. Her Beijing bosses had ordered her to solve livelihood issues in the belief it would turn the people against the protest movement. Less than a week after Luo made that one of her tasks, she did it.

Beijing’s game plan to discredit the protest movement is becoming clear: bribe the people with welfare benefits, label all protesters as rioters, make mass arrests to frighten people away from even peaceful protests, spread fake news about foreign interference, stop human rights activists, such as Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch, from entering Hong Kong, and do whatever is necessary to help government supporters win upcoming Legislative Council elections.

Lam, a Catholic, lied with a straight face when she insisted the HK$10 billion welfare package wasn’t intended to weaken the protest movement or to help supporters in Legco elections. Lam, Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah, and government supporters blamed the protest movement for anonymous critical graffiti against a judge.

Let me remind them of what happened in February 2017 when government supporters, including a movie director, openly criticized a judge for jailing seven policemen who beat up a protester during the Umbrella movement. Did Lam and her government allies say anything? No.

As the justice secretary, Cheng should not comment publicly about the guilt or innocence of protesters. Yet she has repeatedly labeled protesters as rioters before they have even been tried in court. How can she fairly decide who should be charged when she has already decided all protesters are guilty?

Hong Kong people have a strong backbone. They know how to fight back. They can see through Lam’s trickery of welfare handouts. They know Cheng is a Beijing puppet who says China’s doctors are better at treating her minor wrist injury than British or Hong Kong doctors. To Hongkongers I say this: add oil. If you lose hope, sing Glory to Hong Kong. It will keep hope alive.

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A Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London.