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Taiwan Backs Democracy Movement in Hong Kong

  • Ralph Jennings

FILE - People march during an annual protest in downtown Hong Kong Tuesday, July 1, 2014.

FILE - People march during an annual protest in downtown Hong Kong Tuesday, July 1, 2014.

Hong Kong could face a showdown between its leaders and masses of street protesters if Beijing moves to control the choice of the territory’s next chief executive. Across the strait in Taiwan, the government and its people are supporting Hong Kong’s democracy activists as the Taiwanese confront their own issues with China.

Taiwan's government called on China this week to respect people’s wishes to elect their leaders in Hong Kong.

Beijing has ruled Hong Kong, a world financial center and former British colony, since 1997, but pledged to give it a measure of autonomy.

Taiwanese have watched China's control over Hong Kong to gauge whether what Beijing calls "one country, two systems" would work for them. China has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s.

Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council Deputy Minister Wu Mei-hung urged the governments in Hong Kong and Beijing to use tolerance.

She said that with respect to the Hong Kong people's desire for universal suffrage, her office and every segment of Taiwan expresses a high level of concern and support. Wu said her office hopes the Hong Kong government and leaders in mainland China can use wisdom, tolerance of different opinions and rational dialogue and other peaceful means to reach a consensus.

In Hong Kong, a protest group led by a university professor is calling on thousands to block roads in the financial district before year's end if the territorial government rejects demands for universal suffrage for the election of the chief executive in 2017 and legislature in 2020. China said earlier this month it is unwilling to allow open elections, and instead wants candidates for chief executive to first be approved by a 1,200 person nominating panel, which has many pro-Beijing loyalists.

Demonstrators in Taipei expressed fear in March and April that China was using its economic might to control Taiwan. At the time, Taiwan's parliament was about to ratify a China-Taiwan trade liberalization agreement, but shelved it as protesters occupied the legislative chambers while tens of thousands gathered outside.

Political science experts say the issues in Hong Kong will cause Taiwanese to suspect that Beijing would squelch their democracy if the two sides were unified. Taiwan's democracy has flourished since the end of martial law in 1987.

Lai I-chung, vice president of Taiwan Think Tank, said Hong Kong has lost its appeal for Taiwanese since Communist China took it back from Britain.

“I think they're now looking at Hong Kong as a place that’s a Chinese territory. Since Taiwan democratized and Hong Kong is reverting back to China, Hong Kong is no longer presented as a new place for hope or place for modernity, not a place Taiwan would like to learn from,” said I-Chung.

Since taking office in 2008, Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou has established trust with China through landmark trade and investment deals. But he has declined to discuss political differences, irritating Beijing. Ruling Nationalist Party spokesman Charles Chen said Ma, who is also party chair, voiced support last week for Hong Kong's activists.

Chen said the president called democracy and rule of law core values for the Taiwanese people and the people's long-term goal. Chen added that the Nationalist Party will keep showing concern about developments in Hong Kong and that it expresses support for people there who are striving for advances in democracy and rule of law.

Analysts say neither Hong Kong nor Beijing will change course based on Taiwan's position. But some believe China may try to keep its response to Hong Kong's democrats low-key, partly to make a good impression on the Taiwanese, whose political opinions remain key to Beijing's long-term goal of peaceful unification.