Beijing: Hong Kong protests, Taiwan political autonomy are “violent radicalism”

A slew of photos, videos, and tweets found themselves enjoying global media coverage this past week as thousands of Hong Kong residents flocked to the streets to protest a new legislative proposal popularly referred to as the “extradition bill.” Protesters were concerned about the sheer amount of control the legislation would give Beijing over Hong Kong. Were it to pass, the legislation would allow Beijing to extradite political opponents from Hong Kong to mainland China for legal proceedings. There, they would be tried under Beijing’s legal system, which greatly differs from Hong Kong’s more progressively-minded regulations and norms.

The “one country, two systems” model established in the 1980s gave Hong Kong and Macau—both territories on the edge of mainland China—the ability to have separate political and economic systems with Beijing retaining strong, centralised sovereignty over each.
According to the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China—the region’s full and official name—Hong Kong “is largely free to manage its own affairs” and retains a “high degree of autonomy.”

Entering into force in April 1990, the Basic Law provides Hong Kong with power over its own executive, legislative, and judicial branches, including matters of final adjudication. China’s one-party system, led by President Xi Jinping and his Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials, does not exert the same sort of control over the Hong Kong SAR as it does over provinces within the mainland. Instead, Beijing makes its presence known through the pervasive political influence of CCP loyalists who reside in Hong Kong and have great sway over politics there.
It has often been said that in the eyes of China’s leaders, “the Communist party embodies the people and the country.” The political opinions of President Xi Jinping are allegedly embedded into the Chinese constitution, and CCP proponents tirelessly and sometimes forcefully advocate for complete and total loyalty to the party.

Thus, when Beijing-backed Chief Executive of Hong Kong Carrie Lam moved ahead with the extradition bill in early June 2019, the people of Hong Kong had much to say about the prospect of their political and legal autonomy being threatened. The mass of nearly 2 million protesters presented the biggest public unrest in 22 years of Chinese rule and prompted Ms Lam to halt any forward progression on the bill. Ms Lam did not, however, scrap the bill altogether.

The people of Hong Kong have grown increasingly suspicious of mainland China’s influence over the region in recent years. Beijing-backed media outlets and officials have repeatedly and vehemently opposed citizen-led demonstrations in the SAR. China Daily even likened the most recent Hong Kong protests to “unwarranted political wrangling and violent radicalism,” alleging that the demonstrations were “harmful to Hong Kong, and will inflict serious damage not just on social stability but also the economy.”
The veiled threats from Beijing have certainly not been limited to Hong Kong.

Taiwan became an independent country in 1949, when the Nationalist government established the Republic of China (ROC), the country’s official name. Taiwan’s gradual development into a fully-fledged, multi-party democracy has resulted in continued aggression and attempts at coercion from Beijing over its more progressive, human-rights forward policies and objectives. The Taiwanese public has experienced rising anxiety over a stalling economy and heavy diplomatic and political pressure from Beijing. The government there has repeatedly expressed its intention to protect “at all costs” its claim to sovereignty over the island and has heavily pushed for reunification. Over the past few months, Beijing has responded to the bold and vocal pro-democracy Taiwan by ramping up its defence forces against the island, claiming that Taiwan threatens mainland China’s national security. In March, Beijing ordered an increase in naval exercises in the Taiwan Strait, the body of water separating Taiwan from the mainland. The government also updated its air force drills, instructing pilots to encircle the island in their practice flights. Beijing therefore now enjoys a robust presence on Taiwanese land, in the sea, and across its skies.

Though no explicit threats have been made, this behaviour presents a clear challenge to what Beijing has termed as Taiwan’s “independence-leaning” leaders: continue to resist Beijing by pushing for full autonomy, and there will be consequences.

In many respects, Taiwan and Hong Kong face a similar dilemma. The hard-won history of pro-democracy, pro-human rights initiatives that have long set the two apart from Beijing remain in jeopardy under a regime that has functioned as a metaphorical hammer, pulverising any hopes for democratic processes and civil freedoms.

An onslaught of accusations regarding human rights violations have been levelled at Beijing since autumn of last year, when reports about China’s systematic oppression, invasive surveillance, and alleged extermination of its Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang Province hit the international news sphere. Beijing has of course denied all accusations regarding broad persecution of religious minorities, claiming that its heavy-handed monitoring of the groups is strictly intended to curb religious extremism.
It is no secret that China’s economic prowess demands careful and close attention. Ties between China and various foreign governments—including the European Union and powerful North American actors like Canada and the United States—require calculated strategy and tact. But if the situation in Hong Kong and Taiwan has taught the global community anything it is that Beijing can make all of the excuses it wants, but it is not fooling anyone.

The global community knows that Beijing does not dispatch warplanes and ships to Taiwan or threaten the autonomy of the people of Hong Kong with extradition bills because its national security is threatened.
Beijing dispatches warplanes and ships to Taiwan and threatens the autonomy of the people of Hong Kong with extradition bills because independence for any region over which it possesses residual vestiges of power threatens to topple the programme that has enabled the Chinese Communist Party to systematically control and suppress 1.3 billion people for decades.

It is that system that has censored every last bit of citizens’ lives and kept them beholden to the objectives of a party to which many of them likely harbour not one shred of authentic allegiance. It is that system that the people of both Hong Kong and Taiwan have made a point to peacefully and respectfully challenge. Dismantling that system will absolutely require clear and steady support from the international community. For every day, week, and month that passes without it, some would say our refusal to fight for democracy there simply because we enjoy it here banishes us to the same debased playing field as the very regime we are all scared to speak out about.

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