Beijing is Laying the blame for the political chaos in Hong Kong squarely at the door of the US and Taiwan. Its leaders are in denial: Through their own ineptitude they have transformed a domestic problem into an international incident.
In the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) promised to adhere to a “one country, two systems” model of governance, which guaranteed that Hong Kong’s freedoms would remain intact for 50 years.
However, following Hong Kong’s handover in 1997, Beijing began to interfere in the territory. It started with the 2003 attempt to introduce anti-subversion legislation using Article 23 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law. Today Hong Kongers are fighting an extradition bill, which, if forced through the legislature, would allow anyone to be extradited from Hong Kong to mainland China.
These acts of interference by Beijing gave rise to the 2014 “Umbrella movement” and following civil disobedience protests.
The protest movement is not just about Beijing going back on its promise to implement universal suffrage for the legislature and chief executive — it is also a reaction to a fundamental and pressing threat to Hong Kong’s freedoms.
Faced with a fightback from Hong Kong residents and coming under intense focus from the international community, Beijing last month arrogantly claimed that the Sino-British Joint Declaration was a “historic document.” It also said the “one country, two systems” model must take into account the wishes of the central government lest it become a vehicle for Hong Kong independence.
During the anti-extradition protests, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) has been taking her cues from Beijing, while her predecessors Tung Chee-hwa (董建華) and Leung Chun-ying (梁振英) have been fanning the flames of populist nationalism.
As Hong Kong’s model of governance increasingly inclines toward “one country” and away from “two systems,” residents are gradually drifting further apart from the mainland, but the current protests are not unconnected to changes in the wider international environment.
Headlines in Taiwanese media alternate between the intensifying US-China trade dispute and the Hong Kong protests. These twin narratives are having a subtle but significant effect on next year’s presidential election.
With the Formosa Alliance, the Taiwan People’s Party and the One Side, One Country Action Party, Taiwan’s political division continues, seemingly oblivious to external threats and opportunities. Whether the nation is prepared, such influences will have an impact on the presidential election campaign.
Politicians ranging from Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜), Hon Hai Precision Industry Co founder Terry Gou (郭台銘) and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) to Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) are all pandering to Beijing to varying degrees.
Beijing, which interfered significantly in last year’s local elections, will not be able to resist the opportunity to try to turn the tables on President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文). Its campaign is already up and running: At the beginning of the month, it revoked permission for independent Chinese travelers to visit Taiwan, a move designed to hurt Tsai.
Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump has refrained from endorsing a specific candidate, but said he supports maintaining the “status quo,” continued purchases of defensive military hardware and the continued passage of warships through the Taiwan Strait. Washington’s strategic aims are clear.