China Today: Dilemma for leadership as Hong Kong and Taiwan seek change
Protests in Hong Kong and Taiwan elections reveal resentment of mainland
A life-size cut-out of China’s president Xi Jinping among tents and shelters of pro-democracy students at the Occupy Hong Kong camp in the Admiralty district this week. Photograph: How Hwee Young/EPA
While the People’s Republic of China tends to dominate the headlines due to its sheer scale, the greater China story also includes the former crown colony of Hong Kong and the self-ruled island of Taiwan, to which those on the losing side fled after the civil war in 1949.
Aside from the obvious drama of this year’s demonstrations in Hong Kong – the tear gas in Admiralty, the sight of students doing their homework on the barricades, the umbrellas, the yellow ribbons – one of the striking aspects of the protest was the high level of unhappiness with China it revealed among the people on the streets.
The students and other democracy activists wanted the city’s pro-Beijing chief executive, CY Leung Chun-ying, to resign, and demanded that China reverse its decision to vet the candidates for Hong Kong’s elections in 2017.
The Occupy Central protests have exposed a deep-rooted resentment of China among many Hong Kongers. While the protests are now fizzling out, it is hard to see things returning to “normal” any time soon.
The protests were also evidence of a deep divide within Hong Kong itself. The barricades outside the glitzy shopping arcades in Central, on Hong Kong island, were very different from the Mong Kok protest sites in Kowloon, which had a much earthier, edgier atmosphere. It was like a class divide among the protesters.
Bloody nose in Taiwan
Hong Kong is a long way from Beijing, and there has generally been little love lost over the years between those living north of the Yangtze River and those to the south. But Hong Kong has generally been prepared to acknowledge the importance of mainland China in its economic future, and has enjoyed the benefits of closer trade ties.
Something similar has been in evidence in Taiwan. The 1949 revolution saw the communists defeat the KMT nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek, who fled to Taiwan, where the KMT also ruled over a single-party state. However, in the 1980s, Taiwan introduced reforms and now has a lively democracy.
President Ma Ying-jeou has made closer economic ties with the mainland a key plank of his administration, but it seems that the electorate – perhaps after watching events in Hong Kong – is now keen for a more Taiwan-centric approach. It has given a major mandate to the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which may well be extended in the presidential elections of 2016.
Signs of compromise?
But it’s hard to see broader national policy changing, and President Michael D Higgins is sure to be asked during his visit to express Ireland’s support for the “one-China” principle which holds that both the mainland and Taiwan are part of one China.
However, an editorial in Global Times, part of the Communist Party publishing group that also prints People’s Daily, said it was time for new attitudes to Hong Kong: “The mainland shouldn’t be tempted to quell the unrest with troops too easily. It can only bring temporary peace, but the deep-rooted cause will still linger. The mainland should let Hong Kong take the lead in this. All we can do is stick with the Basic Law and let them know what our stance is. Hong Kong itself should take care of the rest.”