The return of Hong Kong to China was relatively simple. It was the end of a lease contract. However, for Taiwan’s reunification with the Chinese mainland, the task is more complex as the United States is in the way.
The British administered Hong Kong for 150 years as a dependent territory. There was virtually no elected legislature (except for its final year under British rule), and the people had no say in its running. That was all done by Whitehall, with telegrams and later faxes and emails to the bowels of Government House for the governor to issue instructions with his red pen to his appointed secretaries for follow-up actions.
Even the governor was appointed by the prime minister without any consultation with the Hong Kong people. But they didn’t mind. The population was totally apolitical, and as long as their rice bowls were filled, they had no complaints. Since the first governor, Sir Henry Pottinger, was appointed in 1843, there has been a succession of 28 governors drawn from the military, the Foreign Office and finally a politician, Chris Patten, who oversaw the handover on July 1, 1997.
China has to make Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” model a success if it is to retrieve Taiwan. However, that is not in the interests of the US, which looks upon Taiwan as a strategic base in the Indo-Pacific area. For the US, Hong Kong has to fail.
Taiwan’s leader, Tsai Ing-wen, has rejected Beijing’s “one country, two systems” plan for reunification, and counting on support from Washington, tries to separate Taiwan from China, ditching the 1992 Consensus, an agreement between the two sides of the Taiwan Straits that emphasizes the one-China principle. Washington claims it still upholds the one-China principle, but it has been doing away with the one-China principle with a salami-slicing tactic, with US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan being the latest maneuver. From the US perspective, Taiwan is crucial to its geopolitical strategy to contain China.
Beijing is fully aware that the reunification of Taiwan with the mainland is long overdue. Perhaps it is waiting for appropriate timing to pursue the reunification of Taiwan with the mainland. It has to use the Hong Kong model as the carrot to draw a positive response from Taiwan residents. But the carrot still has problems eradicating the bad elements.
For decades, the status quo has kept the cross-Straits tensions from boiling over, and it was deemed the best option to maintain stability across the Taiwan Straits. So “do nothing” became the tacitly accepted modus operandi to maintain the status quo. But the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, led by Tsai Ing-wen, is not only openly against reunification with the mainland but has also stepped up efforts to promote “Taiwan independence” over recent years, leaving Beijing no choice but to prepare for an armed takeover if peaceful reunification eventually fails.
There was peace and stability across the Straits … and then out of the blue, Pelosi decided to rock the boat. Against the advice of US President Joe Biden — with the Pentagon also attempting to dissuade her — that there would be serious repercussions from her visit to Taipei, she figuratively spat in his face and went ahead with her own selfish plans with the US midterm elections in mind, though some say this provocative visit was to cement her hawkish legacy vis-a-vis China.
China warned and acted. During Pelosi’s visit, the People’s Liberation Army launched more than 100 fighter-jet sorties around Taiwan Island and fired ballistic missiles across the island during the subsequent live-fire military drills. The US ordered aircraft carriers to the region but withdrew when Pelosi left. War was close, thanks to one person, Mrs Pelosi.
The BBC quoted Biden as saying on May 31 that China was “already flirting with danger right now by flying so close” to Taiwan, and issued his strongest warning to China yet, saying the US would be willing to respond militarily if Beijing were to invade the island.
But a greater dire warning came from former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger when he told The Wall Street Journal: “We are at the edge of war with Russia and China on issues which we partly created, without any concept of how this is going to end or what it’s supposed to lead to.” The American establishment would do well to heed the admonitions of its most influential diplomat in modern times.
The author is a former chief information officer of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government, a PR and media consultant, and a veteran journalist.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
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