Is the PRC Pushing Hong Kong Closer to Taiwan?Recent polls suggest there is growing identification of a shared challenge, if not fate, among people in Hong Kong and Taiwan
On Sunday, China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee announced additional hurdles for future candidates for the position of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive. Ignoring citizen pleas for a direct election of their executive without prior approval from Beijing, the committee ruled that Hong Kong’s 1,200-member Election Committee will continue as a veto player, allowing a maximum of three candidates to compete based on candidates gaining the approval now of at least fifty percent of the committee.
To many in Hong Kong, this is simply another example of how China threatens the political autonomy of the former British colony, despite an original guarantee in 1997 of fifty years of relative autonomy. However, less attention has been placed on how China’s actions have indirectly aided in shifting public opinion in Hong Kong regarding Taiwan.
The “one country, two systems” formula of Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) aimed at encouraging unification of Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan under the People’s Republic of China (PRC) by allowing the three to maintain their own political, legal and economic systems under the principle of a “One China.” Chinese officials likely expected that the handling of Hong Kong after 1997 would entice Taiwan toward unification talks.
In contrast, continuing tensions between Hong Kong and Beijing, from issues as diverse as self-rule to Beijing’s push for mandatory patriotism classes, have not warmed Taiwanese toward unification and instead provide a cautionary tale of the value of promises from Beijing.
More damaging to the PRC’s goals is that Hong Kong’s experience under the “one country, two systems” formula” appears to have made more Hong Kong citizens not only question whether the formula could apply to Taiwan, but increased support for Taiwanese independence. According to public opinion data from Hong Kong, surveys find that while majorities still oppose Taiwanese independence, an August 2014 survey showed the lowest divergence between support and opposition since 1995. Similarly, a growing percentage — 50% in August — did not see the “one country, two systems” formula as applicable to Taiwan (compared to 32% that viewed it as applicable), with 55% having no confidence in cross-strait “reunification.” Both were the lowest levels of support in nearly twenty years. When broken down by age cohorts, those 18-29 were the most critical, with a majority (55%) supporting Taiwanese independence and 80% lacking confidence in “reunification.”
While a multitude of factors are likely at play here, it is difficult to ignore what appears as growing identification of a shared challenge, if not fate, among those in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Those with limited experience of a Hong Kong prior to its handover to the PRC in particular appear the most accommodating to Taiwan’s plight, particularly problematic for a Beijing that hopes to curb demands for political liberalization while maintaining hope in an ill-fitting formula for reunification. Similarly, as perceptions in Hong Kong of Taiwan increasingly diverge from the PRC’s desired narrative, Taiwan becomes a brighter beacon for those demanding political reform.
Timothy S. Rich is an assistant professor in political science at Western Kentucky University. His main research focuses on the impact of electoral reforms in Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan compared to similar legislative systems (e.g. Germany, New Zealand). His broader research interests include electoral politics, domestic and international politics of East Asia, and qualitative and quantitative methods.