News & Politics

Taiwan Rejects Communist China as Hong Kong Watches

Taiwan rally. Image Credit: Photo by Prince Roy/Flickr, license CC BY 2.0.

Taiwan’s voters went to the polls Saturday and sent a strong message to Beijing. The island also known as the Republic of China since 1945 re-elected President Tsai Ing-wen in a massive landslide. Tsai earned nearly 58% of the vote with more than 99% of precincts reporting, leaving no hanging doubts or chads in play. This was a clear victory that will ripple across Asia. Tsai’s victory hasn’t stopped the mainland’s state-run media of casting it as “evil” to undermine it.

President Tsai campaigned on taking a hard line against the mainland and in favor of independence. Today she wasted no time in sending another strong signal that Taiwan is not interested in adopting the “one country, two systems” Beijing insists on. Tsai met with the head of the American Institute in Taiwan today.

Fresh from a landslide re-election victory, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen met Sunday with the de facto U.S. ambassador to Taipei.

William Brent Christensen, a U.S. diplomat who is director of the American Institute in Taiwan, congratulated Tsai on her victory in Saturday’s election, and she thanked him for his support.

The meeting came as China warned that countries should stick with recognizing communist-ruled Beijing as the rightful government of “one China,” including Taiwan.

This follows a strong statement of support from the Trump administration.

Meanwhile, observers from Hong Kong were on hand to witness Taiwan’s vote.

At a raucous election rally for Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen, Hong Konger Karen Leung surveyed the huge crowd of excited flag-waving voters as a rap song blasted over the loudspeakers and sighed: “We want to have elections like this.”

Leung is one of scores of Hong Kong election tourists who have travelled to Taiwan this week to witness something denied to them – universal suffrage.

The entire Hong Kong Free Press story linked above is worth reading, to get a sense of how Taiwan and Hong Kong now see each other. Hong Kongers recognize Taiwan’s long fight for independence and now democracy. Taiwan recognizes and is supplying Hong Kong as an ally, with gas masks, de facto asylum, and other support.

When Tsai appeared at a Thursday night rally, the crowd shouted the popular protest chant: “Free Hong Kong, revolution of our times.”

Hong Kong and Taiwan are separated by about 700 miles of water and together add up to about 30 million people. Up against mainland China’s billion, they would seem to have no chance. But Hong Kong’s potential impact on mainland China makes it the most important city on earth at the moment. China has not cracked down hard on the pro-democracy protesters, because it knows how much it stands to lose. At the same time, allowing Hong Kong to go its own way encourages Taiwan, and dissidents and anti-communists within mainland China itself, particularly Hong Kong’s neighboring province, Guangdong. China could lose no matter what it chooses. Hong Kong could break the last large communist empire. They know it, Taiwan knows it, and Beijing knows it.

Hong Kong and Taiwan can make for potent allies despite the apparent power imbalance between them and the mainland. Hong Kong was a British colony from 1841 to 1997 minus Japanese occupation during World War II, and understands freedoms of speech and the press first hand. Hong Kong’s protesters rightly saw the proposed extradition laws as a means of extending Beijing’s prison state into their free city. Mainland China has never truly ruled Taiwan at all, though it was connected to the Qing dynasty centuries ago. Both have strong local identities, and both are capitalist and look to the west.

The freedom meme may be carried right back from Taiwan’s elections to the mainland.

Another mainlander who circumvented the travel ban was 73-year-old retiree Zhou, whose son-in-law is Taiwanese, which entitles him to visit the island on a family reunion visa.

Although he has no right to vote in Saturday’s poll, Zhou said he backed Tsai, even though his son-in-law was a strong Han supporter.

“I suffered a lot in the Cultural Revolution and I know how valuable democracy and freedom is,” he said, adding that he and his son-in-law often argued over politics.

Despite supporting Tsai, Zhou said that a mainland Chinese passport holder he would not risk attending her final campaign rally on Friday.

“[But] I admire the atmosphere here. How can it be so democratic and so free?”

What happens in Taiwan and Hong Kong may not stay confined to either.