President Xi Jinping has steered China into one of its most repressive periods since Mao Zedong’s rule. Those who dare step outside party line are silenced, detained, or worse. The fact that he is unencumbered by presidential term limits has empowered his pursuit of “national rejuvenation” more than ever. And reunification is only a matter of destiny and a requirement for rejuvenation.
Hong Kong, in utmost turmoil as this goes to press, knows full well the significance of Xi’s power. The extradition bill introduced earlier this year raised their antennae for trouble ahead. The current Hong Kong protesters are prepared to do whatever it takes to resist Beijing’s increasing encroachment.
Of course, there also is a different camp who would like to see an end to the protests, if not just because of the inconvenience, but because of the chaotic image projected to the world. They fear economic repercussions and abhor the violence and property damage.
The violent clashes of 2019 stand in stark contrast to the mainly peaceful Occupy Central movement of 2014. But then, the stakes also are much higher today. The protesters are fighting for their freedoms and their way of life.
A Sept. 28 South China Morning Post article disclosed that Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, had to seek Xi’s approval to formally withdraw the infamous extradition bill despite saying it was her own decision to do so three weeks earlier. The mid-September U.S. Congressional hearing in Wash., D.C., which, amongst others, included student activist Joshua Wong, Cantonese pop star Denise Ho and Dan Garrett, a U.S. citizen and academic who had lived in and written a book on Hong Kong, told of deteriorating circumstances and increasing erosion of civil liberties facing Hong Kongers. Garrett was denied reentry to Hong Kong after his testimony in front of Congress.
Are mass arrests and martial law next? Or worse … a repeat of Tiananmen Square played out at Tamar Park, the Admiralty or any one of the many protest sites?
Who, besides Hong Kongers, is paying full attention to all this? The 23 million people on an island approximately 440 miles to the east of Hong Kong.
The island of Taiwan, for all intents and purposes, has been an independent, self-governing democracy since 1949 even though China has claimed sovereignty over it.
The Taiwanese are increasingly alarmed by what’s happening in Hong Kong since Xi had mentioned “One Country, Two Systems” may be a model for Taiwan after reunification, AND that “China reserved the right to use force” to that end.
Approximately 300 Taiwanese turned up in Taipei’s Central Park on Aug. 11 to spell out “Free Hong Kong.” There are efforts by private Taiwanese citizens to collect and donate to Hong Kong protesters kits of gas masks, air filters and helmets. As in Hong Kong, Lennon Walls at rally sites and coffee shops are proliferating in Taiwan as well.
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen has also been completely resolute in her support of the Hong Kong protests. A June 17 parliamentary statement included one paragraph that said, “The legislature expresses support for the citizens of Hong Kong in their pursuit of democracy and freedom. It urges the Hong Kong government to withdraw the extradition bill.”
Tsai tweeted in June:
Tsai has defied Xi’s reunification. In her 2019 New Year speech she called on China “to face squarely the reality of the existence of the Republic of China on Taiwan” and that China should “respect the insistence of 23 million people on freedom and democracy.”
However, Tsai’s sentiment is not shared by all Taiwanese. Her political rival (for the January 2020 presidential election) Kaoshiung Mayor Han kuo-yu is pro-Beijing. He visited with senior Beijing officials in Hong Kong and Shenzhen. But fearing political backlash for his “I don’t know” comment on the Hong Kong protests, he came out with a “never one country, two systems” statement.
China has been forcing the 20-some countries to sever their diplomatic ties with Taiwan. Since 2016, Taiwan has lost five allies. The latest allies to cave were Solomon Islands and Kiribati, leaving Taiwan with only 15 countries in the world that recognize its sovereignty currently. Despite a decrease in official diplomatic ties, Tsai has done a great job in increasing international engagement since coming to power in 2016.
Additional strongarm tactics from China toward Taiwan include forcing major airlines to list Taiwan and Hong Kong under China! Taiwanese representatives are blocked by China from attending international conferences as observers.
It also is reported that China is waging cyber warfare in an effort to sway the outcome of Taiwan’s January 2020 presidential election. As treatment of Hong Kong’s protesters deteriorate, Tsai’s anti-reunification position will only strengthen and help her political campaign. Those in Taiwan who may have previously considered the feasibility of signing a “peace treaty” with China can see from Hong Kong’s situation how fragile and untenable such a treaty may be with a country known not to keep its promises.
More and more Taiwanese and Hong Kongers have come to realize the benefits of collaborating in their resistance to China’s power grab.