Taiwan Watches as China Tightens Grip on Hong Kong

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - Attempts by Hong Kong's government to enact controversial security laws are being closely watched in Taiwan. Politicians and commentators say those attempts demonstrate why their island nation should resist being swallowed up by the communist mainland.

China wants Taiwan to return to the fold under a similar "one country, two systems" formula that governed Hong Kong's return in 1997.

The semi-autonomous government of Hong Kong decided Monday to postpone a vote on the security law that had been scheduled for Wednesday, following massive public protests and the resignation of a key political ally of Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa.

Pro-democracy lawmakers in the former British colony are now pressing for Tung's resignation.

Critics accuse Tung, who owes his position to Beijing, of bending over backwards to keep the Chinese government happy rather than listen to the concerns of Hong Kong residents and Western governments.

The proposed security law aims to criminalize treason, secession, sedition or subversion against Beijing, as well as the theft of "state secrets."

Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule under a "one country, two systems" understanding that guaranteed the enclave limited self-government and 50 more years of the capitalist way of life.

China has offered a similar option to Taiwan, home to Chinese nationalists who fled to the island after the communists took power in Beijing.

Taiwanese opponents of re-unification worry that, despite China's promises, their country's thriving democracy will be imperiled by such a development - an echo of the concerns voiced by many in Hong Kong.

"It is time to wake up," Trong Chai, a lawmaker with the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, wrote in the Taipei Times Tuesday, urging pro-unification Taiwanese to "take a good look at Hong Kong's situation and think about Taiwan's future."

"Hong Kong is the best mirror for Taiwan, showing us that believing in China will only lead us down a dead-end street."

At a symposium in Taiwan examining the developments in Hong Kong, Chen Ming-tung of the Mainland Affairs Council - a cabinet-level agency - said China had taken just six years to break its promise that Hong Kong would not change for 50 years.

He quoted former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as saying that never in history had an autocratic regime been able to rule over a democratic society.

"Beijing's 'one country, two systems' promise turns out to be hollow, as we are witnessing in view of the proposed law in Hong Kong," Taiwanese political commentator Chin Heng-wei was quoted as saying earlier.

Taiwan's premier, Yu Shyi-kun, said last week's protest demonstration by half a million people in Hong Kong demonstrated that their illusions about "one country, two systems" had been "completely shattered."

A weekend editorial in the Liberty Times paper said the Hong Kong episode had shown that " 'one country with two systems' can only lead to 'one country with one totalitarianism.' "

The formula had merely been "a piece a bait to lure Hong Kong," while the territory's leader, Tung, had turned out to be "nothing but a hidden intermediary on behalf of the Beijing communist regime," it said.

As a result, the people of Hong Kong would likely fare no better than those of mainland China when it comes to fundamental rights and freedoms.

The paper warned that the leaders of both of Taiwan's main opposition parties endorsed the "one China" principle and it would be a major theme in presidential elections due next year.

It voiced the hope that Taiwan's politicians and media espousing the "one China" view would learn a lesson from the Hong Kong experience and "come back on the right track."

In its take on developments in Hong Kong, Taiwan News pointed out that Taiwan's citizens enjoyed the right to elect their own president and replace ruling parties through a democratic process.

By contrast, Hong Kong's leader could be sacked by Beijing at any time.

"Why in the world should the Taiwanese people give up their right to choose their own national leader?" it asked.

See earlier story:
Hong Kong Rulers Back Down on Security Law (July 7, 2003)

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow