What’s Going on in Taiwan? Implications from Hong Kong

Ever since the massive protests of the Umbrella Revolution in 2014, the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong has brought the city and its relationship with mainland China into the international spotlight. Recent demonstrations in the city protesting Beijing-backed extradition laws have brought the “special administrative region” back to the forefront of world news, with a stunning 1/7 Hong Kong residents—over 1 million people—protesting the proposed changes. Indeed, Hong Kong’s unique status as a democratic, capitalist, self-governed region within the communist People’s Republic of China (PRC) has fostered a special interest in what is happening from the rest of the world.

What about Taiwan?

Perhaps no other region on the planet has as much reason to follow the situation than the Republic of China (ROC), often simply referred to as Taiwan. The island’s geopolitical situation is a direct result of the Chinese Civil War, which technically never ended. When the Communist PRC of the Chinese mainland forced the ROC to flee to Taiwan in 1949, the defeated capitalists set up governance over the island and some small surrounding territories; this autonomous government maintains control of Taiwan even today.

This is not without significant controversy, as many government officials in both the PRC and the ROC maintain that there is but “one China”—with each claiming authority over the region controlled by the other. It wasn’t until 1979 that the United States even recognized the PRC as a legitimate government entity, with most of the rest of the world soon following and recognizing Beijing as the true source of power in the region. Notably, however, there are still a few countries that recognize the capitalist Taiwanese’ ROC as the legitimate Chinese government.

In recent years, some factions in Taiwan have ceased supporting this “one China” framework altogether—rather, they have been pushing for independence, and official status as a separate country. Mainland China has warned that such a declaration would be an impetus for war, and has not ruled out military action against the region. Indeed, the PRC is pushing for Taiwan to be officially integrated under Beijing’s government, and brought under control of communist China via the same framework that governs Hong Kong.

“Special Administrative Region”? Independence? The status quo?

Beijing’s push to integrate Taiwan as a Chinese “special administrative region” is the real reason that the controversies in Hong Kong are of such importance to the Taiwanese. As PRC President Xi Jinping stated, “We should safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country and achieve full unification of the motherland,” and that unification was “the aspiration of all Chinese people.”

If this “one country, two systems” policy is where Beijing wants to take Taiwan, how has that turned out where it is currently in place? The answer, as we have seen, is that Beijing fully intends to be in control. Within only a few years of achieving jurisdiction over the Hong Kong, Beijing began exerting an increasing degree of influence over the city’s governance and undermining its autonomy. From the overruling of Hong Kong immigration policy in 1999, the suppression of the press and business in the 2000’s, the anti-democratic mandates of the early 2010’s, to the candidate disqualifications and extradition policy proposals of today, the outcome of this “special administrative region” is clear: Beijing has zero intention of staying out of the city’s affairs.

This may be part of the reason why Han Kuo-yu, a Taiwanese presidential candidate, says he is willing to die in defense of Taiwanese independence. “‘One country, two systems’ can never be implemented in Taiwan,” he said, “Taiwanese people can never accept it, unless, unless, unless it’s over my dead body.”

He’s not alone. Just last year, thousands of residents flooded the streets of Taiwan in support of complete independence. Even the current Taiwanese president is being challenged for not being pro-independence enough. Indeed, while support for independence has varied and even waned at times, more Taiwanese support independence than unification. 

The Bottom Line?

The situation in Hong Kong spells out big problems for Taiwan if they ever give up power to Beijing. There is little question that if Taiwan were to officially hand over their jurisdiction to the mainland Chinese, they would ultimately face a similar situation as Hong Kong, and risk losing control of their own destiny.

 

By Bryce Christensen