Stephen Young, a former US diplomat who served in Hong Kong and Taiwan as Washington’s top envoy, noted in a recent column that Chinese President Xi Jinping had displayed utter contempt for efforts to establish more open political practices in both places.
Young said that the “one country, two systems” framework, intended for Taiwan and in place in Hong Kong, was dead now that “the Chinese leopard shows its spots.”
Young grew up in the southern Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung and headed the American Institute in Taiwan, Washington’s quasi-embassy on the island, between 2006 and 2009. He also served as consul-general to Hong Kong between 2010 and 2013 while holding the “ambassador” rank.
Young said that when the Chinese Communist Party patriarch Deng Xiaoping broached “one country, two systems” in the early 1980s, he needed to restore China’s credibility abroad to reassure a skeptical world that it could be trusted, as he tried to establish a path toward regaining Hong Kong and Taiwan to complete a greater China that had not existed for a century.
Deng went to great lengths to convince London and the world that the economic and political freedoms Hong Kong had under the British would be preserved and perhaps even enhanced.
Deng made use of two factors in Beijing’s favor: Washington’s shift of diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, and the looming expiration of London’s 99-year lease on the New Territories, which is the bulk of Hong Kong’s landmass.
Back then, Taiwan was still reeling from Washington’s severance of ties, followed by a steady stream of similar decisions by other longtime partners in the West. However, th island managed to democratize at the end of the 1980s. By comparison, those in Hong Kong chose to ride on the coattails of China’s reform and opening-up throughout the same period, dismissing the Tiananmen Square massacre in June 1989 as “a harbinger of troubled times,” wrote Young.
But since Xi took control of China in 2012, the political system has regressed to even more authoritarian practices at home and to greater belligerence abroad. Xi’s aggressive handling of Hong Kong has shattered Deng Xiaoping’s plan to use the “one country, two systems” concept to woo Taiwan, and that Hong Kong now serves as a lesson to the self-ruled island that he has vowed to take back into Beijing’s fold.
“Beijing has reneged on its pledges to introduce local autonomy and democracy to Hong Kong, and has ratcheted up military and political pressure across the Taiwan Strait. It may be too late for the people of Hong Kong to salvage something from their push for a more open political system there.
“But the lesson for Taiwan’s 23 million citizens is different. Build your defenses, solidify your relations with your essential security partner, America, and make it clear you will fight for your freedom,” said Young.
The US State Department had already expressed Washington’s “grave concern” over the proposed – and now retracted – extradition legislation at the root of the protests, and as the confrontations escalated, US President Donald Trump and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued warnings to Beijing, telling it to deal with the protests “in a humane way.”
Meanwhile, Joseph Bosco, a former China country director in the office of the US secretary of defense, also noted in an interview with Taiwanese papers that Hongkongers were leading the way in the first major ideological confrontation of the “new cold war” that Beijing had launched against the West.
He said the US and other Western governments, with far more sophisticated communications instruments at their disposal, should follow the Hong Kong protesters’ lead and prepare “an unapologetic name-and-shame campaign against Chinese leaders,” including Xi’s going back on Deng’s pledges as well as Beijing’s new rhetoric that the Joint Declaration on Hong Kong’s return and “one country, two systems” entered into by Beijing and London is no longer legally binding as a “historical document.”
But the military expert is of the view that Beijing will not call in its troops stationed in the city or draw reinforcements from across the border, for now.
“Beijing will refrain from overt interference as long as the protests [are] confined to downtown government and police buildings,” said Bosco.