TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — China's treatment of Hong Kong has direct implications for Taiwan, according to John Pomfret, a veteran U.S. journalist and former Washington Post bureau chief in Beijing.
An estimated 2 million citizens shook Hong Kong two weeks ago in a mass demonstration against a bill allowing extradition to China. Ultimately, the protestors achieved several victories in addition to pressuring Beijing-appointed Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) to suspend the legislation, said Pomfret in a Washington Post editorial.
According to the longtime Asia correspondent, the protest reflects deep-seated fears in Hong Kong of China’s "erosion of the idea of one country, two systems.” He asserts the prospect of applying the same formula to Taiwan is now out of the question.
The suspension of the much-maligned extradition bill is a setback to the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) efforts to silence its opponents, he maintains, and its failed passage bodes ill for similar treaties with Western democracies. Of these, only three countries – Spain, France, and Portugal – currently have such an agreement with the authoritarian regime.
Australia canceled its extradition treaty with the country in 2017. Then this year on June 11, New Zealand halted the extradition of a man out of concern over China's frequent use of torture.
The catalyst for the extradition bill was the alleged murder of a Hong Kong woman by her boyfriend while the two vacationed in Taiwan last year. Without an extradition treaty, authorities in Hong Kong had no grounds to return him to Taiwan for prosecution.
In response, the Hong Kong government attempted to push through an extradition bill permitting the extradition of suspects not only to Taiwan but also to China. The journalist writes that this "sparked fears in Hong Kong that the new law would be exploited by China to prosecute Hong Kong-based political dissidents, journalists, or business executives from any country suspected of breaking Chinese laws."
These fears are well-founded in light of a series of disappearances of those perceived to be threats to the Communist Party's heavily censored narrative. A case in point is Lam Wing-Kee (林榮基), who was kidnapped by agents of Beijing for selling books critical of the Communist Party.
China's treatment of Hong Kong has far-reaching implications for Taiwan, says Pomfret, as China views it as a province. However, he continues, China’s designs to implement the “one country, two systems” mechanism with Taiwan are now impossible with the rolling back of Hong Kong’s autonomy, whether by outlawing anti-China political parties or jailing activists like Joshua Wong.
Pomfret believes the Taiwanese people are now on notice about the salience of the situation in Hong Kong for their own country. He quotes Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) as saying, “as long as I’m President, `one country two systems’ will never be an option.”
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen (From AP News)
The backlash against Hong Kong’s leadership appears to be working in Tsai’s favor. Before the protests, her reelection seemed in doubt. The rival Kuomintang (KMT) party made major gains in last November’s elections, and KMT presidential candidates Terry Gou (郭台銘) and Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) were recently polling neck-and-neck with the DPP head of state.
However, Foxconn tycoon Terry Gou is being by many as having a serious conflict of interest due to his substantial investments in China, notes Pomfret. Meanwhile, Han Kuo-yu seemingly fails to appreciate the significance of the blowback to the extradition bill, calling the protests “a parade.”
The death knell of “one country, two systems” will be heard in Taiwan’s 2020 presidential elections and beyond, he concludes, and candidates perceived as being overly sympathetic to China are likely to flounder, constituting a huge setback for Beijing.