As Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) gathered power following the death of Mao (毛澤東) in the late seventies, he had a vision of a different sort of China, one that focused more on economic development than political struggle. His launching of the “reform and opening” policy in the early 1980s heralded a forty-year period of unprecedented economic growth that has astonished the world. For it has delivered hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty and transformed the PRC into the second largest economy in the world.
Deng also deftly handled the touchy issue of Hong Kong, whose 99-year lease to the British was due to expire in 1997, by crafting what he called “one country, two systems” in 1982. Deng promptly linked this amorphous but pleasant-sounding policy slogan to the question of Taiwan, suggesting that successful PRC management of Hong Kong’s reincorporation into Chinese sovereignty would prove an attractive lure to Taiwan.
Taiwan leaders made clear from the start that they had little interest in the idea, first because Taiwan’s de facto sovereignty made it a very different subject than the UK colony of Hong Kong; second because it wanted no part of a deal that absorbed the de facto independent island-state into the mainland on Beijing’s terms. The standoff has festered now for nearly forty years, despite the impressive economic changes on the mainland. Notably, Taiwan has also grown at an amazing rate. Even more significantly, it has transformed from a one-party authoritarian system into one of the most successful democracies in all of Asia.
My friends in Taiwan have long stressed to me that Taiwan is very different from Hong Kong. While one was a British colony for 150 years, the other emerged from the Chinese Civil War as a separate political entity enjoying nearly all the attributes of a sovereign state. Many outside observers were impressed by the orderly transition of Hong Kong back to PRC sovereignty in 1997, encouraged by Deng’s pledge that his concept of “one country, two systems” was actually working there.
But when Hong Kong seemed to be faring well, observers in Taiwan stressed that the island had never, under successive governments, embraced the applicability of “one country, two systems” to Taipei’s very different circumstances. On the other hand, when things in Hong Kong began to go downhill fast the reaction in Taiwan was “See! This system cannot work for us, and doesn’t even work for the people of Hong Kong!” Emperor Xi (習近平) has sharpened this distinction with his clumsy move to further crush Hong Kong, less than halfway through the fifty-year pledge of Deng’s “one country, two systems.”
We could spend a great deal of time trying to parse out just why Xi has decided to abrogate even the slightest traces of “two systems” through his recent steps, particularly the imposition of a draconian security law now hanging over the heads of the 7.5 million citizens of Hong Kong. I personally think it was Xi’s way of distracting his own suffering people in the wake of the global financial crisis. Whatever the reason, Hong Kong is the loser. I grieve for all the people there, as they watch the rapid deconstruction of even the modest freedoms pledged to them by Deng. Those lucky enough to have the means are planning to get out. But for the overwhelming majority of the city’s people, the future is quite gloomy.
The upshot of all this is that the current Taiwan Government under President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has been fortifying its ties to the US and making it clear it has no time for Beijing’s paltry blandishments. Trade and tourism across the strait have declined, while relations between Taipei and Washington are better than ever. America’s implicit commitment to come to Taiwan’s assistance if it is attacked has been bolstered through both the US Congress and the executive branch under President Trump. Arms sales have grown in scope and quality. I am confident that no matter who emerges from next month’s Presidential election in America, our economic, military and political ties with the island-state will continue to flourish.
Taiwan will continue to seek mutually beneficial exchanges with the mainland whenever possible. But for now, it can and must keep building the close ties of respect and trust it enjoys with the key interested powers. That includes first and foremost the United States. But robust relations with Japan, Southeast Asia, India, Europe, South America and the rest of the world should not be neglected. Taiwan has an important success story to share, and it needs to keep on persevering. The irony is that Emperor Xi’s ham-handed treatment of Hong Kong simply makes Taiwan stand out even more clearly. In sum, it remains the only ethnically Chinese entity in Northeastern Asia that has successfully navigated the current economic and political headwinds currently buffeting much of that region. That is something to be proud of!
Ambassador Stephen M. Young (ret.) lived in Kaohsiung as a boy over 50 years ago, and served in AIT four times: as a young consular officer (1981-’82), as a language student (1989-’90), as Deputy Director (1998-2001) and as Director (2006-’9). He visits often and writes regularly about Taiwan matters. Young was also US Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan and Consul General to Hong Kong during his 33-year career as a foreign service officer. He has a BA from Wesleyan University and a PhD from the University of Chicago.
In a Facebook post on Wednesday last week, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Taipei City Councilor Hsu Chiao-hsin (徐巧芯) wrote: “The KMT must fall for Taiwan to improve.’ Allow me to ask the question again: Is this really true?” It matters not how many times Hsu asks the question, my answer will always be the same: “Yes, the KMT must be toppled for Taiwan to improve.” In the lengthy Facebook post, titled “What were those born in the 1980s guilty of?” Hsu harked back to the idealistic aspirations of the 2014 Sunflower movement before heaping opprobrium on the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP)
Some people are saying the weather has been wonderful this year. That depends on how one defines wonderful weather. The Ministry of Economic Affairs last week announced that the alert level for Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Miaoli and Taichung areas are to be raised from green to yellow, and that water pressure is to be reduced at night. Few households with water tower storage facilities would have noticed any restrictions on their supply, but people concerned with the water situation have been aware for some time that the lack of typhoons this year, coupled with low rainfall, has meant that in the
Although China’s “reform and opening up” has become an empty slogan, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) still put on a show by touring southern China to mark the 40th anniversary of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone’s establishment. His motive was not to regain the international community’s trust, but to shore up his power in China. Externally, it was a response to diplomatic setbacks, and it even revealed his adventurist attitude of not being afraid to go to war. When former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) in 1992 conducted similar inspections, it was to suppress the “leftist wind” that was interfering with his
An increasing number of cafes and other businesses in Taiwan are keeping animals, which draw in people who are seeking the next perfect shot for their Instagram accounts. In the past these were mostly standard house pets, such as cats and dogs, which are accustomed to living indoors and being around people. However, raccoons have become popular, as well as alpacas and other “unusual” animals that require specialty care and specific environments to thrive. In late June, a customer recorded a video of the owner of a coffee shop in Taipei apparently unleashing a border collie on a raccoon, who was the star