Taiwan Stands for Democracy in China, and So Should We

“As democracy and the rule of law are also core values and have long been pursued in Taiwan, we will keep monitoring Hong Kong’s latest development, and express our support toward Hong Kong’s pursuit for democracy and rule of law.” President Ma Ying-jeou, Taiwan

By William R. Hawkins l September 9, 2014

Protesters rally in Hong Kong on Sunday, August 31 (Getty Images)

On August 31, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee in Beijing laid down rules for the 2017 election of a chief executive for Hong Kong. The headline on which the Chinese Communist regime wanted the world to focus was the proclamation of “universal suffrage” for the vote. That sounded very democratic and out of character for the one-party dictatorship that rules the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The details, however, were very much in character. Under the Basic Law, the central government in Beijing would pick who the voters could elect. A nominating committee stacked with pro-Beijing members in Hong Kong would choose two or three candidates to appear on the ballot. Only in this restricted process can the regime be guaranteed an executive “who should love the country and love Hong Kong” – with love of country – China, coming first.

During its long tenure as part of the British Empire (1841-1997), the people of Hong Kong came to expect a level of freedom that is alien to the Communist system. Beijing has feared the contagion of democracy, but has moved cautiously because of the stability and prosperity China inherited when the UK withdrew from Hong Kong. Yet, the Basic Law confirms that the Communists have no intention of relaxing their firm control over the city’s government.

Thousands of protesters marched in Hong Kong calling for true democracy. They demanded that candidates for chief executive be nominated in open primary elections. This desire was labeled “extremist” by Beijing’s henchmen. An August 29 editorial in Global Times, an official publication of the Communist Party, argued “We are convinced that Hong Kong’s opposition groups can in no way win this conflict…. Those opposing the central government can’t serve as Hong Kong’s chief executive, which is out of the interests of both Hong Kong people and the country at large. Chinese society has drawn a judgment that it is detrimental to Hong Kong to allow an anti-Beijing person to lead the city.”

The editorial also warned, “The more they count on support from Washington and London, the more absolutely they will fail.” This view was echoed by the Foreign Ministry whose spokesman declared on Sept. 3, “Hong Kong’s constitutional reform is China’s internal affairs, which brooks no interference from any external force.” What prompted the Foreign Ministry was a comment the day before by U.S. State Department briefer Jen Psaki, who did not seem to understand the issue. She thought she was supporting democracy when at her daily briefing she stated,

The United States supports universal suffrage in Hong Kong, in accordance with the basic law and the aspirations of the Hong Kong people. We believe that an open society with the highest possible degree of autonomy and governed by rule of law is essential for Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity. And we believe that the legitimacy of the chief executive will be greatly enhanced if the basic law’s ultimate aim of selection of the chief executive by universal suffrage is fulfilled.

Yet, the “ultimate aim” of the Basic Law is to maintain Beijing’s control and to deny true democracy. One can only hope that Psaki was ignorant of the Basic Law’s provisions. Otherwise, her support for Beijing’s rules would have to be seen as another example of the appeasement toward the Communist regime that the Obama administration has so often shown.

One country that cannot ignore what Beijing is doing to Hong Kong is Taiwan. The island democracy sitting off the coast is a constant reminder to those on the mainland of what a free society looks like and can achieve. And like Hong Kong, the Beijing regime wants to gain control of Taiwan and bring its democracy to heal. The PRC claims Taiwan as a province and has massed military forces across the strait to threaten bombardment and invasion.

Through its Mainland Affairs Council, the Taiwan government expressed its “regret” over Beijing placing candidate restrictions in its Basic Law.  President Ma Ying-jeou told a meeting of his Kuomintang (KMT) party Sept. 2, “As democracy and the rule of law are also core values and have long been pursued in Taiwan, we will keep monitoring Hong Kong’s latest development, and express our support toward Hong Kong’s pursuit for democracy and rule of law.” Ma called on the Chinese government to be “wise and tolerant of different ideals,” traits which the Beijing regime has never demonstrated. Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office rebuffed Ma’s comments, menacing that such comments do not “contribute to peaceful relations across the Taiwan Strait.” Beijing also falsely claimed that Ma’s views were held by only a minority of people in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Polls consistently show that the vast majority of Taiwanese do not accept Beijing’s form of government and do not ever want to live under such despotism. A July survey found 80.1% of Taiwanese prefer the status quo of de facto independence from Beijing. Over a quarter (26.7) wants to declare formal independence, now or later versus only 8.4% who want unification with China (and most of these peculiar people want to delay unification). As the people of Taiwan watch the Communist dictatorship squeeze Hong Kong, the appeal of Beijing grows even less.

The pivot to Asia initiated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has stalled in President Barack Obama’s second term. U.S.-Taiwan diplomatic and trade ties need to be strengthened, as well as military cooperation. Chinese pressure on the administration continues to stall some of Taiwan’s most important military modernization programs which depend on U.S. aid, including acquisition of diesel-electric submarines and F-16C/D fighter jets. Objections to America helping Taiwan defend itself from Chinese aggression should be dismissed out of hand. It is in the interest of the United States that the people of Taiwan remain free, and that the people of Hong Kong move towards true democratic autonomy. The Beijing dictatorship must not be allowed to expand its reach.

William R. Hawkins, a former economics professor and Congressional staffer, is a consultant specializing in international economics and national security issues. He is a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.