Former US consul general to Hong Kong Stephen Young, who also headed the American Institute in Taiwan, is seen in a file photo. Photo: Handout

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has made an unequivocal statement, via an interview with CNN aired on Tuesday, that she will seek re-election next year. Tsai’s gearing up to defend her presidency comes hot on the heels of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s latest peaceful-return-or-war rhetoric aimed at the self-ruled island, which is seen by Beijing as a wayward province that must be recaptured and put under its suzerainty.

Tsai, undaunted by her Democratic Progressive Party’s thumping defeat in last year’s regional elections, has given Xi a smack in the face and vowed not to sign on to Beijing’s vision, while Xi is losing his patience and has again broached the “one country, two systems” concept for achieving peaceful reunification.

But veteran diplomat Stephen Young, who has served as Washington’s top envoy in both Taiwan and Hong Kong, has also debunked Beijing’s blandishment in a recent column, writing that “one country, two systems” had been badly tarnished by the mainland to “sharply curtail the freedoms initially promised to the people of Hong Kong.”

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has made it clear that she will run again in 2020. Photo: Reuters
Chinese and Hong Kong flags fly in a piazza in Hong Kong. Photo: Weibo

Between 2010 and 2013, Young served as the US consul general to Hong Kong, and during his tenure the US was openly reprimanded by the Chinese Foreign Ministry for meddling in the city’s internal politics.

In his column in the Taipei Times on Monday, Young said he recently visited Hong Kong for the first time in five years and found that despite its façade as a prosperous trade and financial center, there was an undercurrent of gloom.

“Mainland promises of continued autonomy have been repeatedly undermined by words and actions from the north,” said Young, adding that some international businesses were considering pulling their regional headquarters out of the former British colony to the somewhat safer climes of Singapore, which still enjoyed “unfettered rule of law.”

He linked Beijing’s backtracking on earlier pledges to permit Hongkongers greater self-governance to Taiwanese’ cool response to Beijing’s talk of “one country, two systems” for the island, as after all, “Hong Kong was meant to demonstrate the fealty of the mainland government to the spirit and letter of the 1984 Sino-British Declaration on Hong Kong that specified return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.”

The steady exodus of Hong Kong residents to Taiwan and elsewhere in recent years is yet another example of people’s disillusion and the city’s failed experiment of “one country, two systems,” he wrote.

Young argued that Beijing’s biggest threat to the region’s peace and stability would continue to center on Taiwan, as authoritarian regimes never seem to have much patience with neighboring democracies.

He said that by threatening Taiwan and playing the reunification and nationalist card, Xi was bent on distracting his own people from focusing on internal woes, such as a stalling economy and the political awakening of an emerging middle class.

But the fact is that the US has responded in words and deeds to Beijing’s coercion.

The most recent developments include the Pentagon’s deployment of two destroyers through the Taiwan Strait, a sharp reminder that the US remains Taiwan’s most stalwart protector, followed by a renewed effort within the US Congress to extend an invitation, under the new Taiwan Travel Act, to Tsai to address the US legislature.

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