Why Taiwan Had It Right, and Why That Doesn't Matter for Hong Kong

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Why Taiwan Had It Right, and Why That Doesn't Matter for Hong Kong

"Are Hong Kong protests a warning for Taiwan?" and "Unrest in Hong Kong should serve as ‘warning’ to Taiwan, says diplomat." are two of a couple headlines I've had to read over the last month. Giving a warning to someone is an attempt of warding them off a certain path or decision they are inclined towards, meaning these headlines imply that at some point in time, Taiwan actually had decided or was considering joining China under the "one-country two-systems" policy. But, this is not the case. Taiwan doesn't need a warning, they knew what joining under this policy really meant for them in the long run. In fact, I would argue that their weariness and distrust for the Chinese government is simply being verified, with these tensions between Hong Kong and China serving as undeniable evidence of their stance for the last couple of decades. The headlines I presented above also imply something else I am uncomfortable with, which is that Hong Kong, like Taiwan, has/had a choice in this matter. They don't, they didn't, not really. Taiwan had it right, but it doesn't matter for Hong Kong. 

While Taiwan and Hong Kong do share a push-and-pull relationship with China, one where each of the former countries are fighting to keep a democratic lifestyle with China as opposition, they are not really comparable in terms of their capabilities and strategy in handling their relationships with China. Taiwan and Hong Kong separately maintain a unique balance of autonomy, whilst Chinese control constantly poses a threat to their democratic ideals and their western-like institutions. Their similarities lies in their goal of maintaining a democratic system and even in several cultural points, as Taiwan's Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said, "These two outposts of democracy share the same values, and our paths and destinies are closely linked,” he then continued, " We both stand on the front line against the expansion of authoritarianism.” Yet, their outcomes are extraordinarily different. Taiwan has managed to create even more autonomy and function as a country. They utilize their autonomy to its full extent. And are constantly testing China's patience by never buying into "one country, two systems" policy, meanwhile avoiding direct confrontation about it. On the other hand, Hong Kong, starting out from a much more vulnerable and less independent position, has had results that go on the other side of the spectrum. The clash between what Hongkongers want and what China wishes to instill in them is the main source of conflict. On this, Anastasia Yip from UC Berkeley wrote in Global Societies Journal,

Hong Kong people are accustomed to British legal concepts, their idea of an effective government largely resembles Kant’s ideals, where 'a sovereign state ought to protect basic human rights such as freedom, equality and independence of the individual,'

The key here is:

This ideological difference alienates Hong Kong people from China. 

The results of this have been slowly brewing under the surface for years, and with this extradition treaty issue, have at last boiled over. They completely bought into the policy. Which for reasons stemming from colonization, was never a decision they made themselves. Throughout this time, Taiwan was a good role model for Hong Kong on how they managed their trust and influence with China, and on demonstrating justifiable suspicion on the"one country, two systems" policy. Taiwan has never been undecided on their position, they have firmly advocated for independence and a complete diversion from Chinese governance. In fact, the "one country, two systems" policy, being the gentle balance I described in the introduction for Hong Kong, was initially developed as a solution to the Taiwan issue, the issue of , meaning unification or reunification depending on who you talk to. It was then in the early 1980s when Deng Xiaoping of the National CPPCC proposed the idea which was already approved by Chinese leaders,

The Nine-Point Proposal was put forward in the name of Vice Chairman Ye, which in essence can be generalised as ‘One Country, Two Systems’. Two different systems are allowed to co-exist… By and large, the relevant policies may be applied not just to Taiwan, but also to Hong Kong.

Basically, the agreement is that China will respect the current way of life, governance, and even some autonomy as long as they agree to be part of the PRC. They blatantly agreed to uphold laws already in place, respect their capitalist economic system - while the rest of the Mainland would practice socialism-, and leave all other political systems untouched. However, the reality of how this system is being conducted gives the impression that it is actually a policy used more as a transitional phase from the temporary democratic system to complete Chinese take-over. This was a perspective Taiwan foresaw since its creation, and is why Taiwan has remained in this semi-official independent condition for quite some time now. Taiwan's resistance to China's influence is quite clear, but there is still an undeniable connection between the two countries. Due to China's increasing power, that to even threaten our current uni-polar system, it is difficult for Taiwan to remain purely independent without China's blessing or at least any additional favoritism and ties between them. This has restricted their full confrontation and their complete alienation from China. They have tried to expand international allies to gain strength in hopes of having backing if they ever do need to confront China and cut their influence off completely. This has been challenging since China has consistently restrained their global acceptance, thereby negatively affecting trade partners and their economy. This is despite of  their promise to respect Taiwan's way of life and assurance that the "one country, two systems" policy will allow them to remain how they are. Even with China's added resistance and obstaclesTaiwan has continued to make sure to not become paralyzed by this relationship through developing a stronger army, running democratic elections, holding peaceful transitions of power, and creating an economy less dependent on China via smaller countries with few to no economic ties with China.

Now, with the recent developments in Hong Kong, the protests, social unrest, and the dramatic shift in party majority at the local level ["with three million voters casting ballots, pro-democracy candidates captured 389 of 452 elected seats, up from only 124 and far more than they have ever won. The government’s allies held just 58 seats, a remarkable collapse from 300."], many have been commenting on how this situation is one influencing Taiwan's outlook to China. Articles about how the Hong Kong-Chinese conflict is somehow negatively influencing Taiwan's view on the "one country, two systems" policy are popular. But, I question, "When did Taiwan have a good perspective on this policy?". The various statements released by President Tsai of Taiwan and Taiwan in general within the last months really just reiterated a position Taiwan has held since the 80s, that the policy China seeks to implement in Taiwan will never be accepted. It is their position, a logical one I think, that one country cannot realistically have two completely different systems of governance and laws in place at once, as Tsai stated herself, “There is only one answer to this - impossible,”.  Taiwan, specifically Tsai, referring to Hong Kong's situation was to use it as a demonstration of why China's proposed policy does not work, it is a manifestation of something Taiwan has predicted all along. I argue that this opinion is not a sudden revelation that has until now influenced Taiwan's position on the policy to become a negative one. "Hong Kong is just a very clear-cut, close-to-home example of what unification looks like", claims Lev Nachman from the Global Taiwan Institute. I agree, and to add-on, I think that this is just what Taiwan forecasted. Regardless, I'd like to emphasize that the issue with Hong Kong is a completely separate one, and cannot be observed and analyzed the same as Taiwan. Hong Kong's standing cannot be fairly compared that of Taiwan with the stark difference in capability and power, this is because of one important aspect that seems to be overlooked. The fact is, Hong Kong never has had independence in recent history, meaning they never had a voice, they never had complete control over their decision making or treaties, and the smidgen of autonomy they have was only granted to them by a treaty they did not take part in creating. How can we compare a colony passed from one country to another to a country with declared independence? Thereon-after, how can we compare their relationship to other countries? Even if Hong Kong wanted to mimic Taiwan's relationship with China to secure a protection of their democratic lifestyle, which I believe the people would judging the latest local election, they do not have that ability at this time. So, it doesn't matter.

On the surface, it may appear that Hong Kong and Taiwan share enough similarities to compare them to each other as well as compare each of their relationships with China to each other. Nonetheless, an understanding of their history, their current territorial status, and their origin rebukes these comparisons and renders them useless. Their differences found through a deeper analysis of their profiles end up being enough make them incompatible for true and accurate comparison. Furthermore, as a result of their present-day differences, any comparison or recommendation based on each other is more-or-less inadequate and inapplicable. I believe it is important to analyze countries, territories, and their conditions, but, at the same time, I believe it is crucial to do so in a way that evokes a complete understanding of conditions. Because only then, will comparisons and analysis be useful and influential.