Taiwan’s victory, Hong Kong’s tragedy

September 01, 2020 08:27
Photo: Reuters

The war between China and the United State is intensifying. It has spread from trade and technology to finance, diplomacy and the military. In Washington, people talk of an “October surprise” – a limited conflict in the South China Sea – to help President Trump win re-election.

Neither Taiwan nor Hong Kong has a conflict with the U.S. Two years ago, Hong Kong enjoyed better relations with the U.S. than any city in China, with thousands of American citizens and companies happy to live and work here and the same for Hong Kong people going the other way. Senior officials of the SAR government were warmly received by high-ranking members of the administration in Washington.

Now the world has turned upside down. Those same officials are under U.S. sanctions. American banks and companies here are trapped between two contradictory sets of rules and wonder if they should stay.

This is the tragedy of Hong Kong that should never have happened. In Taiwan, the story is the reverse. It enjoys better trade, diplomatic and military relations with Washington than at any time since 1979. Last month, Health Secretary Alex Azar landed in Taipei, for the highest-level visit in over 40 years. More Cabinet-level officials will follow.

As Hong Kong is the biggest loser in the Sino-US war, so Taiwan is the biggest winner. Since diplomatic ties with Washington ended in 1979, its nightmare has been that American economic interests in the mainland would become so substantial that they would outweigh promises of support for the democratic island. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) would attack and Washington would decide not to lose men and material in a war with China.

But now the Trump administration is urging its companies to ‘decouple’ from China, a policy which a future President Biden will continue, if in a more rational and co-ordinated way. Taiwan companies are also leaving the mainland to go home.

Between January 2019 and the end of May this year, 189 Taiwan firms applied for government incentives to invest over NT$761.4 billion in the island. One reason is rising production costs, especially in Guangdong. A more important one is that customers, especially in the high-tech industry, want parts and components not made in China.

Last week, the Taiwan media reported that Google has bought a plot for US$123 million in the Yunlin Industrial park to build its second data centre in the island. The company did not confirm this. It already has one data centre in Changhua county.

U.S. military support for Taiwan is at an unprecedented level. Last month, the government signed an agreement to buy 66 of the latest model F-16 jets built by Lockheed Martin Corp. It marks the first US sale of advanced fighter jets to Taiwan since President George H.W. Bush announced approval for 150 F-16s in 1992.

Late last month the U.S. State Department made public for the first time the Six Assurances made by President Ronald Reagan in 1982, to show clearly that Washington would come to Taiwan’s rescue if it were attacked by China.

For the PLA, the key question is: if we attack Taiwan, will the U.S. defend it? The answer today is a definite yes. It is this knowledge that enables President Tsai Ing-wen to adopt such an aggressive stance toward Beijing. On August 22, her predecessor Ma Ying-jeou said she was pushing Taiwan to the brink of a war with China. “Taiwan risks getting caught in the middle of the power struggle between the U.S. and China,” he said.

In Hong Kong, the opposite process is going on. With the National Security Law (NSL), Beijing has taken over the SAR government, especially the administration, legislature and security forces. It wants judges in cases involving protests and national security to act like those in the mainland; they follow the orders of the Communist Party. A heavy burden now falls on our judges who will rule on such cases. They are under enormous pressure to reach the verdicts that the HK and central governments demand.

The Chief Executive reads a script that seems to have been written for her by the Liaison Office and the Hong Kong & Macao Affairs Office.

Last week (August 25) she attacked medical experts sceptical of her plan for universal testing for COVID19 of a political motive, blackening the central government and aiming to destroy the relations between Hong Kong and the central government. This is the language of ideologues in Beijing and would have been unthinkable of a senior official here before 2018.

She is the person primarily responsible for the tragedy of today. She could have withdrawn the extradition bill within several weeks in the face of protests by more than a million people. If she had, the demonstrations would have stopped and there would have been none of the violence that gave Beijing the opportunity to impose the NSL.

If he wins, President Biden may remove some sanctions against Hong Kong – such as the ban on “Made in Hong Kong” products – and will open a dialogue with Beijing. Relations will become more normal, while they remain confrontational.

But there is no possibility that Beijing will withdraw the NSL and remove its security personnel from Hong Kong. These changes here are irreversible.

No wonder people say that this was not the “second handover” but “the takeover”.

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A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.