With Hong Kong's Democracy in Complete Darkness, Are Clouds Gathering over Taiwan's Sovereignty？
By Chen Kuo-hsiang
The Storm Media, March 12, 2021
Beijing is creating Hong Kong in its own image. Recently, the National People's Congress in mainland China has been reviewing a bill to establish a democratic electoral system with Hong Kong characteristics in order to ensure that Hong Kong is governed by patriots.
Beijing's “reform” of Hong Kong’s electoral system imposes restrictions on the pro-democracy camp in two ways. First, by reviewing the eligibility of candidates, it is able to weed out the radicals. Second, by limiting the pro-democracy camp to a small percentage of seats in the Legislative Council, it ensures the central government’s full control over managing Hong Kong.
Why Beijing killed Hong Kong democracy in its infancy against the will of the Hong Kong people and the expectations of the international community? Some scholars argue that the key for authoritarian regime to transform into a democratic one lies in two factors: "cost for tolerance" and "cost for suppression." In the eyes of Beijing, after the Hong Kong protests of 2019, coupled with foreign instigation, the cost for tolerance drastically increased. While after the implementation of the Hong Kong national security law and the Hong Kong economy still in good shape, the cost for suppression reduced greatly. The fate of Hong Kong's democracy today is the logical consequence of Beijing’s comparing these two relative costs.
Will Beijing decide the future of Taiwan's sovereignty according to the same logic? Certainly, maintaining sovereignty is different from developing democracy. But there is same underlying logic when Beijing devises policies pertaining to Hong Kong and Taiwan. Under "One Country, Two Systems,” the dialectical relations between tolerance cost and suppression cost becomes, for Taiwan, "cost for maintaining status quo" and "cost for unification by force." For Beijing, the dynamics of these two costs has changed drastically.
During the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou from 2008 to 2016, Taiwan upheld the 1992 Consensus, did not espouse the position of Taiwan independence, and did not tilt completely towards United States and against mainland China. So for Beijing, the cost for maintaining the status quo was low. Hence, Beijing was quite tolerant towards "One China, with respective interpretations,” the “Republic of China,” and “diplomatic truce.” Consequently, cross-strait relations achieved a breakthrough with the meeting between Ma and Xi Jinping, the economic, cultural and social exchanges across the strait deepened. Under these circumstances, the cost for unification by military force was very high. So the mainland remained content with the status quo, and cross-strait peace was temporarily assured.
After Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) took power in 2016, however, it has refused to endorse the 1992 Consensus, forcefully tilted towards the United States against mainland China, implements de-Sinicization policy, and marches step by step toward Taiwan independence. Consequently, Beijing assessed that the dynamics between the two costs has changed fundamentally. With Taiwan becoming increasingly an American pawn in resisting China, the tolerance cost is becoming higher. Meanwhile, when the military balance is tilting more in the favor of the mainland, interdependence between the two sides is further weakening, and the risks for American intervention getting higher, the cost for suppression becomes relatively lower. Hence, Beijing is exerting military pressure on Taiwan and eyes for unification by non-peaceful means.
The policy considerations towards Taiwan by Beijing are manifold, but the logic to factor in tolerance cost and suppression cost is always there. That said, how to lower the cost of maintaining status quo and increase the cost of unification by force is fundamentally significant to Taiwan so as to pursue good fortune and avoid disaster.
The article was originally published in My Formosa and reproduced with permission on the Storm Media.