June 29, 2017 10:00 am JST

Beijing's crackdown on Hong Kong is alienating Taiwan

'One country, two systems' was aimed at the island; now it has little appeal

KENJI KAWASE, Nikkei deputy editor, and CHENG TING-FANG, Nikkei staff writer

Taiwan’s New Power Party Chairman Huang Kuo-chang, at far right, and lawmaker from his party Kawlo Iyun Pacidal, second from left, were joined in by Hong Kong legislators Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, center, and Raymond Chan Chi-chuen, second from right, on June 12 in Taipei. (Photo by Kensaku Ihara)

HONG KONG/TAIPEI The governing principle of Hong Kong, "one country, two systems," was originally proposed by China to persuade Taiwan to accept rule by the mainland. Hong Kong was supposed to show how this creative principle would work in practice. Two decades on, the experiment has effectively been called off. As Beijing tightens its grip on the former British colony, people in Taiwan increasingly see themselves as separate from the Chinese. Now people in Hong Kong are feeling similarly alienated.

Beijing's heavy-handed approach is forging an alliance between Hong Kong and Taiwan against it. On June 12, lawmakers from Taiwan's ruling pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party and its small coalition partner, the New Power Party, formed a caucus to deepen exchanges with Hong Kong pro-democracy counterparts.

Hong Kong lawmakers Nathan Law Kwun-chung, Raymond Chan Chi-chuen and Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, as well as pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong Chi-fung and Alex Chow Yong-kang, appeared in Taipei. New Power Party lawmaker Hsu Yung-ming told the Nikkei Asian Review that Taiwanese parliamentarians labeled as pro-independence cannot obtain visas to Hong Kong, as Beijing asserts influence over the territory's immigration policy.

"Both Taiwan and Hong Kong face external challenges posed by China, and they also encounter similar socioeconomic issues," Hsu said. Chu echoed his point. "Next to you is a mega superpower with more than 1 billion [people]. We cannot restrict our battlefield to Hong Kong."

Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesman for Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office, said the meeting amounts to "collusion of Taiwan and Hong Kong independence forces." On June 14, he said it would "interfere in the implementation of the 'one country, two systems' principle in Hong Kong."

The political formula was originally presented to Taiwan by Beijing in 1979. It came soon after Deng Xiaoping made a final comeback as China's paramount leader and implemented the "reform and opening up" policy in December 1978.

Deng's proposal was adopted for Hong Kong in December 1984, when the Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed.

Taiwan then was also under one-party rule by the Nationalists. But the island has become a democracy, electing its top leader for the first time in March 1996.

WE ARE WHAT WE ARE China, meanwhile, was moving the other way, bloodily suppressing unarmed citizens in Tiananmen Square in June 1989, and firing missiles into the Taiwan Strait during the island's first presidential election campaign. After breaking a series of promises to Hong Kong since 1997, Taiwanese suspicion of its motives only deepened.

Taiwanese are increasingly detached from China. The latest annual poll on identity by National Chengchi University indicates that only 3.4% consider themselves Chinese, while 58.2% see themselves as Taiwanese. The majority of respondents began expressing their Taiwanese identity in 1995, and the gap widened after 1997.

Syaru Shirley Lin, professor at The Chinese University of Hong Kong and herself Taiwanese, said Hong Kong after the handover "should have been a shining city on a hill. But that all has gone away. 'One country, two systems' has no appeal to Taiwan," she said.

The changes in Hong Kong under Chinese rule are an issue for many young Taiwanese as well. Michael Liao, a 26 year-old graduate student at National Taiwan University, expressed fears over Hong Kong's political future. "Over the past few years, we saw how China has tightened its grip, and how Hong Kong people are treated by China," Liao said.

Taiwanese Premier Lin Chuan told the Nikkei Asian Review in an interview on June 23: "Hong Kong will only have a bright future if China allows Hong Kong to keep its society democratic and open."

His boss, President Tsai Ing-wen, was instrumental in formulating the law that governs Taiwan's relationship with Hong Kong and Macau when she was an academic in the mid-1990s. The law stipulates that Taiwan provide "necessary assistance" to residents of the two territories when their security and freedom are under imminent threat for "political reasons."

Nikkei staff writer Debby Wu in Taipei contributed to this report.

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