photo: wikimedia commons
by David Parmer / Tokyo
January 11, 2020 is Election Day in Taiwan. Voters will be choosing both a president and a number of legislators in Saturday’s election. Will there be any surprises in the election? All indications seem to indicate that there will not be any surprises.
Most bettors would probably put their money on incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen to be re-elected and to defeat her opponents: KMT candidate Han Kuo-yu and People’s First Party James Soong Chu-yu. Barring some last-minute catastrophic change or event, Tsai will get another 4 years. What will be interesting to see is if the opposition parties gain legislative seats or even a significant number of seats.
President Tasi’s first four years have been unremarkable. Perhaps stability in a tense situation is what she brings to the Taiwan-PRC equation.Tsai’s DPP suffered legislative defeat in 2019 and Tsai resigned as party head to take responsibility. What might have followed was a resurgence of the KMT and the DPP being swept away were it not for the social unrest in Hong Kong. Tsai’s long-standing rejection of Beijing’s One Country, Two Systems offer may have a strong resonance among Taiwan voters looking west.
Cross-Strait relations are always in the forefront when considering Taiwan and the PRC. Relations warmed up under KMT President Ma Jing-yeou but immediately cooled when the DPP took over. At present Beijing has barred individual travel to Taiwan, thus damping the tourist industry and eliminating valuable cash inflow. Also, at the same time, President Tsai has had some success in luring Taiwanese companies home to Taiwan.
Improved ties and a melding of the two Taiwan and Mainland economies would be an attractive outcome for Beijing. For cultural and economic reasons the two entities would draw closer. A virtually seamless economy might make One Country, Two Systems more palatable to many people in Taiwan. In addition this would negate the necessity of a costly military option that would bring negative outcomes to all parties involved.
Some reports say that President Tsai and the DPP might be working on improving these cross-Strait relations, and this has stolen some thunder from Han Ku-yu’s program. However, as long as the DPP and President Tsai do not reaffirm the “1992 Consensus” and the “Once China” policy, it is likely that there will be little significant warming of relations between Taiwan and the PRC.
In the beginning of 2020 China has its hands full with the situation in Hong Kong and its public relations fail in convincing the world of what it describes as its fair treatment of its Uighur population. So it is unlikely that Beijing will ratchet up tensions with Taiwan (barring the crossing of the reddest of red lines, i.e. a declaration of Taiwan independence) in the short term, and that it will be pretty much “business as usual” in Taiwan in 2020 following the election of January 11.
Photo: National Renewable Energy Lab via flickr
Hong Kong in the summer of 2019 really is a thorny problem for Beijing. All things considered, it looks like there is no “win” for Beijing, only a “not lose.”
A “Perfect Storm”
A perfect storm of conditions is coming together to make an almost impossible situation in which the Chinese government cannot get a positive outcome. The Hong Kong government has been tasked with dealing with the massive demonstrations opposing the now-defunct extradition bill. The kidnapping of anti-Beijing booksellers in the not-so-distant past gave demonstrators just the ammunition they needed for their protest, as it proved to them that the true purpose of the bill was not to extradite criminals to face justice, but to smother dissent in Hong Kong.
This has been a near impossible situation to deal with for the government of the SAR considering that university students are on holiday and out in full force, and that the world is watching via international media. While there were accusations of excessive force, the demonstrators did enter and vandalize the Legislative Council Building despite police presence.
As of mid-July 2019, protests continue. The second round of protests have been against mainland traders who buy up huge amounts of goods in Hong Kong for resale on the mainland which drives up inflation in Hong Kong. Police and protesters scuffled at a shopping mall and injuries were reported.
Demands from the protesters, in addition to the permanent scrapping of the extradition bill, now include an investigation into police brutality and the resignation of Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
The Use of Minimal Force
At present, it appears that Bejing’s decision is to continue to let the Hong Kong government handle the situation. The use of excessive force by the SAR or the Beijing government would damage the “soft power” that the PRC has been developing for decades culminating in the “Belt and Road” initiative.
The specter of the CCP’s handling of the 1989 Tian An Men Square incident also hangs over the Chinese government. Moreover, those “on the fence” in Taiwan regarding re-unification might be pushed to the pro-independence side if they were to see the PRC clamp down.
And the “no win” situation is just not for the government of the PRC.The protesters who are acting in such a way to preserve the freedom of Hong Kong under the One Country-Two Systems arrangement might just be putting an end to it.
Beijing’s Red Line
China’s long-term strategy is not yet clear. In the short term, the strategy is not to use excessive force. However there is a point where protest becomes anarchy. If anarchy were to ensue, then the PLA would be called in to maintain order. Once order had been restored, those “freedoms” that the protesters were fighting so hard to preserve might be lost forever.
No one knows where the red line is with the powers in Beijing and we are not privy to the thinking of the CCP. But be sure, there is a red line. When the passions of the protesters are aroused, it is unlikely that long-term thinking will prevail, and it is highly likely that anarchy will ensue. When anarchy does ensue, the CCP and PLA will act, and act decisively.
The above outcomes are not good for Hong Kong, and ultimately not good for China. But history has a way of being history, and in Hong Kong and other places around the world we can see history unfold from the comfort of our own homes on big-screen TVs.
What do you think about this matter? Please let us know.
photo: Etan Liam via flickr