Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen rang in the Lunar New Year with a short greeting to the global Chinese-speaking community, expressing her hope that all members of the community would be able to enjoy some of the same freedom and democracy which Taiwanese now experience.
Her speech conveniently came days ahead of the release of the Freedom in the World 2019 report titled “Democracy in Retreat,” published by Freedom House, a US-based and US-government-funded non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom, and human rights.
The report by Freedom House reaffirmed Taiwan’s commitment to freedom, with a “free” Taiwan ranking 26th among 195 countries or territories for freedom in 2018″ in sharp contrast to China, which tied for 180th and was designated as “not free.” Taiwan’s score of 93 (on a scale of 100) for freedom placed it second in Asia behind Japan (96) but just ahead of the United States (86). On China, the report cited concerns over President Xi Jinping’s all-encompassing power grab, the creation of “re-education” centers in Xinjiang, and the export of its Internet censorship and surveillance methods of control.
Given the tremendous progress Taiwan has achieved since the years of the “White Terror,” the wide disparity in freedoms experienced by Taiwanese compared with mainland Chinese appears to be a major obstacle to Xi’s “one country, two systems” offer during a speech on January 2. His speech, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the “Message to Compatriots in Taiwan,” called for the “peaceful reunification” of Taiwan as a must for the “great rejuvenation” of the Chinese nation, while offering the “one country, two systems” formula as the best approach to achieving reunification.
Xi, of course, would like this “reunification” to happen peacefully, quoting the well-worn phrase “Chinese don’t fight Chinese,” then quickly negating that by adding, “We make no promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option of taking all necessary means.”
Understandably, the majority of Taiwanese, with their hard-fought freedoms and democracy, rejected Xi’s proposal according to a survey released after his speech by Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council. Some 75% of Taiwanese opposed the “one country, two systems” approach to reunifying the mainland and Taiwan. And unwilling to relinquish their democratic voice, nearly 90% of the respondents said Taiwan’s future and cross-Strait relations should be decided by the 23 million people on the island.
Having read of the restrictions on freedom Beijing has carried out in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, some Taiwanese may be unpleasantly reminded of the excesses of the “White Terror” period, while many are rightly fearful of the potential relinquishment by Beijing of the freedoms and democracy they now hold dear – making the “one country, two systems” promise by Xi a distant dream.