Thursday, November 14 2019 | ASIA TODAY INTERNATIONAL - Reporting the Business that Matters in Asia
LEARNING LESSONS IN STUDENT POLITICS
DOES Taiwan want a complete break from China – regardless of the price? The people may decide in 2016 . . .
TWENTY-FIVE years ago, student protestors in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square were massacred by Chinese Government troops. Whether the students achieved any real change in the course of modern Chinese history remains to this day a point of debate in the intelligentsia. Most think not.
Fast forward to 2014 and the student protests in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Both have the potential to influence the future course of Chinese history, but whether either protest has a telling impact is a discussion for a
future time. In Hong Kong, perhaps. In Taipei, probably.
Governments must wonder what is taught in their schools . . .
IN AN immediate sense, the student Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong has caused the world to sharply focus on a festering sore — what is seen as increasing interference by the Mainland in day-to-day Hong Kong domestic affairs, coupled with a dumbing down of Chinese (and Cantonese) culture.
Hong Kong people object to the rudeness of visiting Mainlanders (as have previous generations objected to the cultural rudeness of Japanese tourists, or loud Americans, or drunken Australians), but they also blame the Mainland for ever-higher rentals in Hong Kong, and resent Mainlanders winning plum jobs that used to go to their own children. The students resent that, too.
Perhaps the most important lesson accidentally brought home to Hong Kong people by the Umbrella Movement is an awful realisation that China does now actually absolutely control —and is controlling — Hong Kong in both political and economic policy.
For ordinary Hong Kong people, and, indeed, many in the business community, the penny finally drops. Today, some 17 years after the 1997 Handover — when the British lowered their flag but nothing really seemed to change — Hong Kong is psychologically trying to cope with a reality previously denied — or disguised; that it is, indeed, part of China, ruled by China.
The writing really was on the (Chinese) wall soon after that 17th anniversary of the SAR (on June 30) when the Chinese leadership released its White Paper on Hong Kong, stating that China has complete jurisdiction over Hong Kong and is the source of its autonomy — while noting that ‘Hong Kong people who govern Hong Kong should, above all, be patriotic’. No ambiguity there.
As if to reinforce the point, Beijing formally banned British Parliamentarians from visiting Hong Kong to report on the Umbrella Movement, a move that raised eyebrows in a foreign community used to visa-free travel to Hong Kong.
(Queried on this, a Hong Kong Government official says the issuance of visas was a (Chinese) Foreign Ministry matter as the Parliamentarians were making a political visit – they were not tourists or business visitors.)
If nothing else, the Umbrella Movement has certainly rained on Hong Kong’s parade.
IN TAIWAN, the impact of student protests may be more profound.
The Sunflower Student Movement has thrown Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan into gridlock and forced a hiatus in the ever-deepening relationship between the incumbent KMT Government and China, prompting a senior Taiwanese official to lament that Taiwan is now two countries of people who want different outcomes (see pages 20-22).
A Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement already signed off by China is being held to ransom in the Legislative Yuan pending agreement to a Transparency Act which will require extensive public scrutiny of all
aspects of any future discussions between Taiwan and the PRC, with special reference to national security.
Understandably, Beijing is not hastening to try to complete any other mooted deals with Taipei — including establishment of respective official trade and cultural offices in China and Taiwan — until the current
impasse is resolved.
Taiwan’s Opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which had a frosty relationship with Beijing when it last held power (from 2000 to 2008), made huge gains in local government elections in November, and is seen as likely to oust the KMT at Presidential elections in 2016.
DPP Secretary-General, Joseph Wu, says the DPP will not enter into discussions with China with pre-conditions, referring to what he calls “fundamental values”, but adds: “We don’t rule out any kind of relations with
China for the future.” (see page 22)
Beijing, meanwhile, has put further pressure on the Taiwanese economy by moving to finalise a Free Trade Agreement with South Korea — which competes directly in the China market on 77 per cent of Taiwan’s total exports.
That will put a hole in Taiwan’s GDP numbers. Taiwan needs international trade to survive, and currently 40 per cent of that trade is with China.
Taiwan also will probably need a nod from Beijing if it is to succeed in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade groupings. The DPP wants to broaden Taiwan’s international trade partnerships to lessen dependence on China.
Taiwan now finds itself in dilemma. As with the language used in reference to Hong Kong, Beijing has become more blatant in suggesting a ‘One Country Two Systems’ solution as the only way for full reconciliation with Taipei.
That, according to ongoing opinion surveys over 10 years, is anathema to around 85 per cent of the Taiwanese people. They want a continuance of the status quo, or they want a complete break from China — regardless
of the price. And they will decide — probably sometime after 2016.
* Barry Pearton is Publisher of ATI Magazine.