The implementation of the draconian national security law in Hong Kong has spread fears in Taiwan that it could be the blueprint to deal with the ‘Taiwan problem’. Hong Kong and Taiwan seem to be headed in the same direction, with the national security law clearly indicating what the future holds for Taiwan.
Hong Kong’s security law has laid down the new ‘normal’ for the city. Free speech is now limited, extradition to the mainland is legal and support for Hong Kong’s freedom anywhere in the world is a criminal offence. But for China, the buck does not stop here.
Writing for the Washington Post, John Pomfret suggests that Hong Kong security law could be China’s blueprint to deal with the ‘Taiwan problem’. According to Pomfret, with the passage of the national security law on Hong Kong, China has arguably moved a step closer towards war with the island democracy that sits 90 miles off its coast.
China considers Taiwan a ‘renegade’ province and has denounced any country that supports its independence. China and Taiwan split in 1949 after nationalist forces lost a civil war to Mao Zedong’s communists, fleeing to the island which Beijing has since vowed to seize one day, by force if necessary.
To make his point, Pomfret uses the example of Li Su, the president of the Modern Think-Tank Forum and a prominent hard-liner in Beijing. After the passage of the security law in Hong Kong, Li took to Chinese social media to hail the law as a critical step in “liberating Taiwan.”
Li is a staunch supporter of an armed solution to the ‘Taiwan problem’. Li never minces his words when it comes to Taiwan and was even barred from entering the country by Taipei for making speeches that advocated the use of force in April 2019.
In June 2019, when Li led a team of academics to the United States, not only did he assert Beijing’s intention to take over the island, he also predicted how China would launch its current crackdown in Hong Kong.
In his recent lecture on the social media application, Weibo, Li said he interpreted the Hong Kong security law as a “test case” on which China will model its takeover of Taiwan. “We will learn how to control Taiwan by experimenting with this law on Hong Kong,” he declared.
He asserted that China’s experiment in Hong Kong is a message for Taiwanese people that they will be forcefully united i.e., independence activists, democracy activists, students who cause trouble and bring them to the mainland to be sentenced. He concluded by asking “who would dare oppose us?”
Opposition to the national security law has already led to the arrest of pro-democracy and pro-independence supporters in the erstwhile British colony. According to SCMP, 10 people have been taken into custody and could face trial in mainland courts.
Prominent pro-democracy activists such as Nathan Law have fled the autonomous region altogether. Citing fear of arrest, Law said that he had left Hong Kong for an unknown destination. Others are expected to follow-suit and according to experts at EurAsian Times, Beijing seems to have weakened the pro-democracy wave to a great extent.
Hong Kong- A test Case For Taiwan
In the opinion of Pomfret, China has used Hong Kong as a test case for its dealings with Taiwan. The model of “one country, two systems” is a case in point. China proposed the same system to be used by Taiwan when the United Kingdom handed back control of Hong Kong to Beijing in 1997.
In Taipei, the idea of Taiwan unified with China has found no support amongst Taiwanese. In fact, a record 67% out of 23 million people in Taiwan now self-identify as “Taiwanese” instead of either Taiwanese-Chinese or Chinese, according to a poll conducted by the National Chengchi University.
However, this has not stopped the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from abandoning the threat of force to take over the island. Just last year, President Xi Jinping declared that China would “retain the option of taking all necessary measures” to absorb the island.
Taiwanese President Tsai-Ing Wen has become a thorn in the side for Beijing in recent times. Tsai views Taiwan as a de facto independent nation and not part of “one China” and has ramped up the military, economic and diplomatic support to counter increased Chinese pressure on the island.
There has been speculation amongst experts that that Xi wants to solve “the Taiwan question” sometime near July of next year when the Chinese Communist Party will celebrate its centenary. According to Li, the passage of the national security law in Hong Kong has confirmed this theory and has set the date for the ‘liberation of Taiwan’ to sometime around 2021.
While 27 countries including the US, UK, Canada, and Australia have condemned Chinese actions in Hong Kong, Li and other hardliners have played down the reaction. Li even mocked China’s enemies and referred to them as a ‘’group of dragons without a head.’’
Aiming primarily at Washington, Li questioned how the hooligan nation of America, making a reference to domestic unrest after the killing of George Floyd, can be a leader. ‘’America doesn’t even qualify to be China’s opponent. … What are they going to do, fight a war over Hong Kong?” he said.
Fear amongst the Taiwanese is justified. Although U.S. law requires the U.S. government to provide for Taiwan’s defence, the question remains whether Washington would send its troops to die for Taipei.