Showing posts with label hong_kong_politics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label hong_kong_politics. Show all posts

Friday, August 9, 2019

Hong Kong's in for a weekend of protests, so go check out Taipei's Lennon Wall


The post-it on the right shows a Hong Kong bauhinia with a drawing of Taiwan and says:
"We stand together forever"
Honestly that brought tears to my eyes. To the right, the big characters simply say "freedom". 


I don't have a big post to write here, this is more of a photo essay. 

As you might know already, a Lennon Wall (a wall of pictures, post-its and other written messages inspired by a Beatles-themed wall in Prague) has popped up in Taipei, mimicking several Lennon Walls that have appeared (and are sometimes taken down by pro-China dissenters) in Hong Kong since protests began.


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I'm posting it because not everyone is able to go see the wall - a lot of my readers are not in Taipei, or are perhaps simply not able to make it to Gongguan. I want those people to be able to look at the messages of support written for Hong Kong by the people of Taiwan.

I want to say here that anyone who is unable to go to the wall but would like to add a message of support can leave a comment on this post or on Lao Ren Cha's Facebook page (which you are cordially invited to 'like', by the way) with what you want to say, and I will personally go to the wall, post your message of support, and take a photo to send to you. Seriously - I don't live that far away and I'm pretty free next week. Just ask. 



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The wall is located near MRT Gongguan Station and National Taiwan University's southwestern edge, in the underpass that lets pedestrians traverse the Roosevelt Road/Xinsheng South Road intersection.

I'm not sure why sticky notes are the vehicle of choice for these sentiments, but my guess is that it's because they're easy - the stickiness is right there - they're cheap, they can go up quickly, they're colorful and they won't cause any damage. I don't know about Hong Kong but in Taipei an added advantage is that people can leave blocks of sticky notes behind for others who'd like to add to the wall but haven't brought materials.



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When Brendan went to check it out several days before I did, as I'd been in China, it seemed a lot smaller than it is now. It's absolutely burgeoning with messages now, and I imagine it will only get bigger.

There are volunteers who watch over the wall - after all, Taiwan also has pro-China thugs who tear things like this down out of sheer petty childish vindictiveness. Plus, there are markers, pens and sticky notes made available so anyone can come by and write a message without preparing in advance. 



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The messages come from around the world - Brendan and I are not the only foreigners to have left them - in a variety of languages (though mostly Mandarin, Cantonese, Taiwanese and English).

They are mostly in support of Hong Kong and the protests there - many of them pointing out that what happens in Hong Kong affects Taiwan and we are all in this together in the fight for freedom. Some, however, explicitly reference Taiwan and call for Taiwanese de jure independence.

There's some conflict as well: 



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That's understandable as many Americans in Taiwan (and many Americans in general!) support Taiwan and Hong Kong, but the governments of some countries have been slow to act or show support. 
And, as you can see, while most of the messages are positive and call for peace and non-violence, others take an (also-justified) angrier tone, lashing out at Carrie Lam, Xi Jin-ping, the KMT and the Hong Kong police. 


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A few of them explicitly reference previous social movements in Taiwan and Hong Kong, with pictures depicting yellow umbrellas for Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement and Sunflowers for Taiwan's Sunflower Movement, both of which occurred in 2014.

Those movements, while not entirely successful in changing the political climate long-term in either Taiwan or Hong Kong, have had a lasting impact on activism in both places.

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In several places, the five demands of Hong Kong protesters are laid out: 


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Some point out that protests have grown less peaceful (mostly in defense as the police have unleashed violence on protesters) because "if peaceful protest worked, we wouldn't have to come out every weekend". 


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Others clarify that this fight isn't just about the China extradition bill - Hong Kong wants democracy and it's at a tipping point. The scope of what protesters are fighting for has widened, which is both wonderful and dangerous (and something they were going to have to eventually fight for, which I suspect most people had known already but not necessarily previously articulated.)


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Of course, issues facing Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang and other places are intertwined, as all of us are locked in a battle against an expansionist, aggressive, human-rights-abusing dictatorship that seeks to control us: 


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Similarities between the KMT in Taiwan and the CCP - and the KMT's closeness with China - are also pointed out. Underneath the Winnie the Pooh (Xi Jin-ping) with a KMT sun on his chest, are the words "don't throw your vote away" (literally "don't vote messily/carelessly"). 


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"Today Hong Kong, Tomorrow Taiwan"


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This one speaks for itself.

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A Cantonese version of "Do You Hear The People Sing" has become a popular protest anthem in Hong Kong. I can't help but draw a connection between the hopelessness of the protest in Les Miserables and the protests in Hong Kong. Though Hong Kongers seem to be doing a better job than Enjolras, Marius & the gang. 


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Taoist hexes (I think) being placed on a picture of Carrie Lam. One is about long life, the other says "retrocession for Hong Kong" (back to the UK? Toward independence? I'm not sure). 


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This slogan (on the black paper) was popular during Taiwan's Sunflower Movement:




A memorial for the poncho-clad protester killed as a result of being hit with several water cannons early in the protests. Yellow ponchos have also become a symbol of protest for Hong Kong as a result. 





Pens and post-its are available for anyone who comes unprepared. 


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Sunday, July 28, 2019

If you tell us we can't...

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A sarcastic funerary memorial to Li Peng, Carrie Lam, lawmaker and general douchebag Junius Ho
and other anti-democracy political figures

Photo courtesy of Jean-Francois Dupre

Recently, Banqiao Senior High School in New Taipei decided to allow male students to wear skirts (most Taiwanese students wear uniforms). Female students are already allowed pants or skirts.

Some parents and parent-adjacent angry people spat out a few meaningless statements such as:

“Children like to do something wacky, to be different from others, so that people pay attention to them,” he [Hung Chih-ho, who leads a Kaohsiung-based parents' association and whose opinion on what happens in Banqiao does not matter] said, “but now boys are allowed to wear skirts to school, with the school attributing the change to respect for students’ right of autonomy.”

Yeah...and?





Apparently their main complaint is...you know what? It doesn't matter.

What matters is this: with the new rule in effect, chances were that only a few boys would have chosen to wear skirts. It's not a norm yet so doing so is sort of a form of personal expression rather than an unremarkable choice (for now), and I don't know about you but I find shorts and pants far more comfortable than skirts.

But now, because some ornery seniors are complaining that the young'uns aren't upholding harmful gender norms to the degree that they expect because a few boys are choosing to put fabric on their bodies in ways that boys typically did not do before - OH NOES - you can be absolutely certain that more boys will choose to wear skirts simply to piss off the oldsters.


Good job, old people. You really showed them!

In highly related news, everyone's talking about the "illegal" protest in Yuen Long yesterday - illegal in quotes because the word implies doing something wrong when this protest was absolutely morally right. 


It's not just that I think Yuen Long 7/27 got more support locally and internationally because people dared to show up despite the rejected protest application, but that these protests would in fact be far more peaceful if the police - and police-adjacent angry people - would just allow them to be peaceful. Think about it this way: if you don't throw tear gas, hire gangsters, beat people bloody, kill a guy with water cannons, put jubilee clips on your batons, protesters will assemble, march and go home. It's inconvenient, but not nearly as inconvenient as the world seeing that you either hired thugs, are thugs, or both.

And as a result, more people are showing up. Hong Kongers are getting angry. If they ever trusted those in charge, they no longer do. Occupy Central wasn't universally supported, but with the current spate of protests, all the police and government are doing is hardening the stance of more Hong Kongers against them and against China. They're showing up and demanding democracy exactly because they have been told they cannot have democracy. 


They're doing it creatively too - told that they could not assemble there, a few people figured out that activities such as large-scale Pokemon hunting and religious celebrations are not bound by restrictions on assembly, and claimed those as excuses to gather. There was even a call to hold a sarcastic memorial for Li Peng - the Butcher of Beijing who presided over the Tiananmen Square Massacre - complete with a planned attempt to try to resurrect him.

Would protesters in the West be so creative (and sarcastic)? I don't think so, but then typically we don't have to find ways to protest when we're told we're not allowed.






Good job, Hong Kong police (and hired gangsters - same thing really), the Hong Kong government, and China! You really showed them!

Eventually things would have escalated anyway - as I've said, the problem isn't the extradition treaty but China's plans for the endgame of One Country Two Systems and how incompatible that is with what Hong Kong wants. But it might not have mattered: though there are people who want full independence for Hong Kong, I gather that most would settle for being part of China but having democracy. Most of the time they'd probably have voted for boring, centrist politicians anyway and the few firebrands that would have gotten into office would have their say, but the status of Hong Kong as 'part of China' would not have been seriously disputed.

So if China had just let them have democracy and not made a thing of it, not insisted on half-assed fake democracy, not tried to force through terrifying extradition bills etc. etc., though decisions in Hong Kong might not have always gone exactly their way, China could have had almost all of what it wanted.

Of course, they can't do that, because of their absolute terror that letting people have a say in their government anywhere in China would lead to people in China wanting a say in their government everywhere. This is probably true, but then "the CCP could never allow that as they might lose power!" is not an ethically defensible justification. I don't think it matters though - if the CCP let Hong Kong have what it's demanding, they'd come off looking like 'the good guys', everyone would go on as usual, the bad international press would have never materialized and the real threats facing the CCP might have actually been held off longer, or at least with a lot less international scrutiny. People condemning them now might actually be defending them.

Whether or not it's a good thing for the CCP to stay in power - and I absolutely do not think it is - it might well have been in their own best interest to choose the slow-burning democracy threat over the "we look like murderous thugs to the international community" threat.

The same is true of Tibet. Though he doesn't speak for all Tibetans, the Dalai Lama has been clear that Tibet would settle for autonomy, and does not need independence. All China ever had to do was let it be - stop sending in Han Chinese settlers to change the population demographics (and making sure those settlers got all the best jobs), not trying to erase Tibetan culture or religion, not threatening monasteries and not insisting the CCP could choose who the next major lamas would be. If they'd done that, Tibet would be a lot better off, and China would have gotten almost everything they wanted. (I can't speak for Xinjiang, I'm less sure about that.)

Instead we have re-education camps, an internationally popular Dalai Lama, monks on fire, international celebrities sympathetic to the Tibetan cause and a province in near-lockdown. 


Good job, Chinese government! You showed them! 


Of course, with that comes the terror that Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia and other provinces with distinct non-Han cultures would want a similar degree of autonomy. Again, that's probably true, but I fail to see why it'd be a bad thing. I don't even think China would necessarily cease to exist. 


And, of course, Taiwan.

This one is trickier as it involves straight-up independence, but if China allowed Taiwan to declare formal independence as the Republic of Taiwan, perhaps with a few acceptable concessions, and then said "you know what, we speak the same language and inhabit similar cultural spheres. Wanna be best friends and have tons of economic cooperation?", Taiwan probably would have said yes.

The way things are now, I don't know that I personally would trust such an offer, but the point still stands the CCP could probably have most of what it wants if they would just let go and stop being such assholes. There would still be a few hardcore China-haters around, metaphorical boys going to school in skirts no matter how much the CCP hated it, but I suspect the average Taiwanese voter would be quite fine with a close relationship with China as long as their autonomy, freedom and democratic rights were permanently assured through de jure independence.

I bet more Taiwanese would even claim Chinese ethnic identity alongside Taiwanese national identity, if doing so weren't a rhetorical point that Beijing is using to try to force its claim on Taiwan.

But no, a dogged insistence on fabricated boundaries (if they really cared about the pre-1911 boundaries, Beijing would claim Mongolia as well) and a desire for total control once again makes it harder for them to actually get the thing they want. Instead, Taiwan remains stubbornly free and quite rightly mistrusts all overtures from the CCP (and CCP-adjacent angry people), and  a close economic relationship thwarted thanks to Beijing's own hubris.

Because they've convinced their own people that Taiwan is of vital national importance and letting Taiwan 'get away' would be a disaster for China, if Taiwan does in fact get away, some provinces of China might decide they want independence, too. If they hadn't manufactured such a potential crisis, I doubt that territories actually under Chinese governance would care nearly so much about a territory not under their governance formalizing its place in the international community.

And thanks to Hong Kong as well as changing international winds, the world is finally starting to notice.

Great job, CCP. Absolutely fantastic. You really showed them!

Now...who wants to put on skirts and head to Yuen Long? 

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Are things getting better, or worse? - Hong Kong, Taiwan and the world

I hope you enjoy my terrifying gif

At a wedding this past weekend, some friends and I were discussing anxiety, perception and the state of the world. Someone pointed out that most global indicators (except climate change) have in fact been improving: crime rates in previously high-crime areas, global extreme poverty, overall rates of conflict, child labor, child mortality and global income inequality - these are all on the downswing. Life expectancy, productivity (and even leisure time, though it doesn't seem like it), access to electricity and clean water, percentage of people living in democratic nations) are all on the rise.

In short, we didn't know that things were much worse back then, because we didn't have access to the kind of news coverage we do now: so much so that what we are able to know about current affairs far outstrips our ability to take any meaningful action regarding it. (Well, hello Xanax. How are you today?)

Okay, great. But then why do things still feel like they're getting worse? It's not that the argument above is too abstract - I'm quite capable of hearing that overall crime rates are lower than when I was young and the world seemed safe and taking it into account, even feeling a little soothed by it.

It's that the specific situation we're actually living through in Taiwan and Hong Kong is in fact getting worse.

In other words, it's not that the livestreams from Hong Kong I was glued to last night, in which white-shirted gangsters thought to be in collusion with the Beijing government attacked protesters, made me think that the whole world was spiraling toward Hell and none of those positive indicators above mattered. It's that in the specific part of the world where I live, this is the new reality, and it's not looking good.

In Hong Kong and Taiwan in 2014, while gangsters caused trouble for the Occupy Central protesters in Hong Kong and attempted to do the same in Taiwan to the Sunflower Movement and other protests, at least in Taiwan there was a modicum of police response. Though even that seems to be growing more rare: in early 2017 the police protected Hong Kong activists who'd come to Taiwan for a form hosted by the New Power Party, but by late 2017, they didn't seem to be responding much at all to random gangsters beating up protesters. By 2018, there were questions about how close the gang-affiliated associations thought to be sending these thugs really were with the Taiwanese police, and it's already well-documented that they have ties to Beijing and pay protesters (and presumably thugs) to create nuisances that they themselves don't want to seem directly involved in. The whole "China hires gangsters to do their dirty work" is not at all new.

Beijing's actions - and attempts at forcing both Hong Kong and Taiwan into submission - are also getting more obvious. Just a few years ago, it felt as though Beijing was still making a serious yet flawed attempt to at least present a veneer of a workable "one country two systems" framework. It was always a bad deal and nobody bought it, but it had a vintage sheen of politesse. It was ultimately meaningless but at least provided Taiwan and Hong Kong with some maneuvering room to provide some meaningless verbiage of their own as their way of saying "no thanks". Yes, they kidnapped and attacked booksellers in Hong Kong, they erected an entire tourism industry and tried to make us believe it was vital to the economy (it wasn't) only to take it away the moment Taiwan elected someone they didn't like. They've always had ties to certain gangs and alliances in Taiwan and tried to push through their agenda via a Ma administration amenable to their demands.

But Ma was a pro-China president, not a president maneuvered into place by China (though certainly they supported those who supported his candidacy). China attempted a stronger media presence as well, and were rebuffed. If things seemed critical before the Sunflower Movement - and they also seemed critical for a period in 1996, but China was a lot less powerful then - there were inspiring anthems and 2014 and 2016 elections to look forward to. In 2014 there was still a shred of belief that Hong Kong police served and protected Hong Kong citizens, and their presence was not a reason to feel unsafe per se.

Now, in Hong Kong the government just outright calls protesters "rioters" (for a little spray paint and broken glass, and breaking an approved protest route but attacking no one unprovoked) while not mentioning thugs committing actual violence that seem increasingly likely to have been hired by Beijing or pro-Beijing proxies. They attack protesters as though they are criminals. Chinese officials call pro-independence supporters in Taiwan "war criminals" - as though that is even possible. When a majority of a population believe something, that's not a "war crime", it's public consensus.

One candidate for president in Taiwan is a straight-up literal Manchurian candidate, and he's freakishly popular in that weird brainwashy way that Trump seems to be - people loving him for his rhetorical style and not caring that there's no substance behind it. You know how in Snow Crash, people would start randomly uttering syllables that were presumably ancient Sumerian, and follow directives based on them, due to some sort of neuro-linguistic virus? Well. (I suspect pro-China types are simply paid). Even scarier? He might actually win.

And now, in Taiwan, years after the anti-media monopoly movement, few imagined that pro-China forces would stop attempting to openly buy Taiwanese media outlets, but rather that Beijing would simply infiltrate the ones that already exist and give direct orders to their editors. That they'd have them publish pro-China garbage directly from the Taiwan Affairs Office without even bothering to change the characters from Simplified to Traditional Chinese:






You could say the bad guys are getting sloppy, not things getting worse, but I read it as the CCP just not caring anymore - they've realized that with all of the tools used to foment instability in the US (fake news, rallies at which speakers spout meaningless but exciting populist garbage that stokes discontent and chauvinism, trolling, both-sidesism and using the fourth estate's commitment to freedom of speech against itself) and with a particularly Chinese element of paid thugs + plausible deniability, that they don't need to be sneaky or clever about it anymore. They can just be aggressive dicks.

How can I look at all that and say "things are getting better"? Sitting in my Taipei city apartment and knowing that what's happening in Hong Kong is China's plan for my own city in just a few short years, the two ideas simply do not reconcile.

The obvious answer is that things are getting better with the exception of this regional strife - that the world is a better place, there are fewer conflicts overall, and this one is relatively contained: it only dominates my thinking because it's happening in my part of the world.

But that doesn't square either. In fact, a lot of things are getting better in Taiwan - just not the China issue. Taiwanese identity and independence remains higher than it had been in previous decades despite some fluctuation. Transitional justice is finally a thing that's really happening. I would argue that Tsai, while imperfect as all leaders are, is the best president Taiwan has ever had (and might write an independent post to that effect). While progress is slow, indigenous issues are gaining traction. The economy is actually pretty strong, considering the global economic situation. The state of journalism is a perpetual concern in Taiwan (when it's not straight-up fabrication or editorializing, or disproportionate coverage with an agenda, it's trash like "Ko-P farted in public! News at 11!"), but there is still robust public discourse to be found.

No, what worries me more is that, both globally and regionally, whenever a bunch of statistics are put together to show us how much better things actually are now, they always seem to come with caveats, and those particular caveats are exactly the deeply serious threats that can sink everything else. Even looking at the two articles I linked to in the beginning, they mention the squeezing of the middle class  (even alongside the other benefits of more porous borders) and the decline of liberal democracy as two things that are going in the wrong direction (and the latter, as I hope I've shown here, is entirely intentional). I'll go ahead and add climate change to that list because...duh. There's also an argument to be made for free markets - by which I do not mean capitalism as it currently exists - but I won't go into that here.

But aren't all of those other improvements we've seen in the world attributable in part to the rise of robust middle classes in developed and near-developed countries, the beneficial effects of liberal democracy which ostensibly aims to benefit all people rather than enrich a few, and stable climate patterns around which economics, human health and agriculture can be planned? Aren't these three things - income equality and upward mobility, liberal democracy and the natural surroundings we build societies in - not so much just three more indicators in a sea of indicators, as the platforms on which all the other indicators rest, and on which they are contingent?

Taiwan and Hong Kong are perhaps particularly threatened by all three. Income inequality in Hong Kong is a major issue; it's not nearly as bad in Taiwan but still a problem, mostly due to low wages. Even so, the KMT has done a fantastic job of convincing Taiwanese that it's a massive issue unique to Taiwan that only they can fix, rather than a global trend we can only hope to mitigate, not obliterate, even when economic indicators are strong. Climate change? Well, both places are island/coastal, in tropical and subtropical typhoon-prone, so of course that's an issue.

Most importantly, however, it can be argued that no other places are threatened as deeply by the undermining of liberal democracy as Taiwan and Hong Kong. Yes, foreign interference in the US political system is an issue, but the perpetrators - China, Russia, home-grown fascists, whomever - aren't actually trying to take over the US or wipe it out as an independent entity (they just want to destabilize and supplant it, or render it irrelevant). China is trying to annex Taiwan and has the legal means to wipe out any vestige of freedom or liberalism in Hong Kong already. The US can probably survive attacks against it (though I'm less sure about the rot from within), though potentially weakened. Taiwan and Hong Kong may not survive at all - not as themselves, anyway. The intent isn't to destabilize Hong Kong or Taiwan, that's just a rest stop on the highway straight to takeover - a takeover that they are no longer as concerned with being non-violent. They want what they want by the end of the 2040s and our lives don't matter.

It's serious enough that you can consider such a statement not as random spitballing, but rather the gray area between speculation and prediction.

The gangs they've hired before? A few stabbings and kidnappings? An attempt to purchase major media outlets? Those were just test runs. Perhaps seeing if they could get Hong Kong and Taiwan to give in peacefully, not put up so much of a fight. Lie back and pretend to enjoy it. That hasn't happened and won't happen. Now we're in the real war, and it's going to get worse.

And if Taiwan and Hong Kong stand on the front line between democracy and authoritarianism, then this is not a unique or regionally specific situation. It's a harbinger for the world. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

We all know how this ends: a howl for Hong Kong and Taiwan

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Support rally for Hong Kong in Taipei in mid-June


A lot of op-eds and thinkpieces have come out recently regarding the events in Hong Kong and Taiwan's status - in fact, one side benefit for Taiwan (other than a boost for President Tsai) is that the turmoil in Hong Kong is causing the world to also take a closer look at Taiwan. I may blast the international media for not getting Taiwan 'right' (and they often don't, even the most well-intentioned among them), but these past few weeks, journalists who aim to raise awareness about Taiwan to the world have really come out in force to tie the two issues together, and I am grateful for that.

Instead of linking throughout the piece, let me draw your attention to some of this excellent work:

Taiwan's Status is a Political Absurdity
Wishful Thinking and the China Threat

Hong Kong Has Nothing Left To Lose
Support for Hong Kong rises in Taiwan amid fears for a future under Beijing's rule

Hong Kong And Taiwan Are Bonding Over China (in fact they've been close since 2014 but nobody in the international media cared until a few weeks ago)
Hong Kong's Desperate Cry

...and more.

All I could think while I read this excellent work were of two things I experienced recently. First, at the 'support Hong Kong' rally outside the Legislative Yuan, one of the speakers quoted Dylan Thomas - slightly out of context but I'm cool with it - exhorting us to "rage against the dying of the light".

And another context, over a week later, in which a friend made me her plus-one to a reception at AIT and I told some random employee quite directly that it was time to officially recognize Taiwan - not as the Republic of China but as Taiwan. He wasn't wrong when he mentioned anger from China, or that the US does do what it can (generally, depending on whose in charge). But I said to him:

"Look, you know where this ends, right?"
Random Guy: ...
"You know this ends in war."

And that's just it - all I can see in Hong Kong's future is bleakness. War, massacre or the dying of the light. I don't predict a much brighter future for Taiwan, though at least there's a sliver of hope remaining.

I mean, pro-democracy forces in Hong Kong should not back down, and will not back down. There is no legal pathway for Hong Kong to go from where they are now to full democracy, and the protesters realize this means civil disobedience is necessary (I have a link for this as I'm not the only one who's had this idea, but I can't find it). In any case, if you accept that there is in fact a 'right' and a 'wrong' here and those who want greater freedom and autonomy for Hong Kong are right, they should not back down: Carrie Lam, LegCo and their Beijing handlers should. It's not the protesters' job to ensure peace - it's their job to fight for what's right. Peace will come when the bad guys stop being bad.

But that's not going to happen.

It's even worse than that - the anger here isn't just over the extradition bill. Withdrawing it won't fix the problem.

The problem is that what Hong Kongers want - as a general consensus - is actual democracy and a greater degree of sustained and guaranteed autonomy (with a vocal subset wanting full independence). And that is like oil to Beijing's water. Worse still, there is no emulsifying agreement in the world that could make them mix. This isn't just because democracy anywhere on Chinese soil (or on claimed Chinese soil) scares Beijing as it might give their own citizens ideas they find unacceptable, but also because they fundamentally don't understand why it should matter. They just don't see why Hong Kongers should need or want it. They have no intention of negotiating an agreement that gives Hong Kong real democracy and human rights, let alone allowing such a system in perpetuity - and yet that's exactly what Hong Kong wants. And nothing less will do, because anything less is not democracy or human rights, period.

And in 27 years, these two notions of how a country should be are headed for a game of chicken, with millions of lives at stake - with no real middle ground for negotiation. Either you have a democratic system with a trustworthy assurance that it will not be eroded, or you don't. There is no universe in which the CCP has power and is willing to offer that assurance.

I mean, look at who the pro-democracy forces are talking to - a leader who cries more over broken glass and spray paint than people who actually died, and is now presiding over the widespread arrests of demonstrators, and a huge government that once rolled over their own people with tanks, is in the midst of a literal genocide in Xinjiang, and will do it all again if they can get away with it because they fundamentally don't see what's wrong with any of it.

So when you've got one side that isn't going to readily accept anything less than this, and another (more powerful) side that doesn't even see why it should be considered important, and the second side basically owns the first...well. None of the thinkpieces on Hong Kong want to go that far or say the words, but come on. We know where that ends.

All I can say is I don't know what the UK was thinking when it assumed that 50 years - or any number of years - would be an acceptable period of time in which to convince an entire city that the democratic norms they never really had but do want were not necessary, and that it would be acceptable to let a regime like the CCP determine Hong Kong's future. They had to know that at the end of the One Country Two Systems timeline, that Hong Kongers wouldn't be clamoring to give up what limited rights and freedoms they had to be more like the rest of China. Was the UK really that shortsighted - thinking it was doing the right thing by giving up its colonial rule to deliver Hong Kong to an even worse master?

(Yes.)

Is there any way to stop the inevitable? Perhaps if the world does more than pledge verbal support to Hong Kong and actually does something to make China feel a bit of pain - though probably not. I don't think any country is willing to actually send in troops to stop the slow erosion of Hong Kong, when the process by which it is happening is entirely legal and was in fact somewhat negotiated. I also somewhat doubt that they'd put the economic screws to China, because it'd blow back on their economies as well. If there's one thing I've learned in the 21st century, it's that even when it might be effective, wealthy countries are terrified of doing anything that might cause economic discomfort.

It's not much different for Taiwan. We know where that ends too.

China's not going to stop insisting on annexation, and Taiwan is just going to move further away from China. There's no common ground there either: either Taiwan is sovereign, or it isn't. Either Taiwan has a real democracy with real democratic norms and rights, or it doesn't. China can promise this under a unification framework, but it doesn't understand why it should have to keep such a promise. Beijing either genuinely can't tell the difference between a "democracy" in which all candidates are pre-approved by the CCP and other freedoms or limited, or they don't care, and they're not exactly known for keeping promises, so there is no incentive to follow through in good faith.

So what happens to Taiwan when China finally has the wherewithal to actually force the issue? Does Taiwan fight and hold off the first wave, only to possibly/probably lose later? Does it become a protracted bloodbath not unlike Syria, because annexation isn't exactly an over-and-done deal and Taiwan is more of a poison pill than an easily-subjugated territory? What happens if a future KMT president tries to ram through a "peace treaty" the way they tried to ram through CSSTA? Do we have another Sunflower Movement, except bigger and with escalating police violence this time?

What happens when Taiwan and the world fully wake up to what many of us have known for awhile: that there is no middle ground that can be negotiated with China? That there is no "you two sides have to settle this peacefully", because one side cannot be trusted?

Does the world step in?

Because "we're doing what we can" (under current frameworks, agreements, treaties etc. that are in place) isn't exactly reassuring. When we're down to the wire and troops are rolling in, do you do something or not?

If we don't do anything - if we cry and wail and make verbal statements of support, or "talk behind closed doors" (or even open doors) but don't actually lift a finger, if you're afraid to even wobble the economy just a little bit...where does it end?

Does it end with a victorious Taiwan, sovereign and rejoicing that it fought off a massive enemy on its own?

Does it end with a victorious Hong Kong, with true, full democracy and all the rights and freedoms that implies?

Does it end with a free world that can co-exist peacefully with China, their raging expansionism sated? A world free of debt traps, Chinese-owned transport infrastructure that is never held hostage whenever China wants something from the country that infrastructure is in, and technological infrastructure that is safe for the world to use?


Obviously not.

When we say "well, we're doing what we can...it's complicated...I mean, Hong Kong is a part of China...we know Taiwan deserves better but China might get angry...I mean, it's tough to do anything about those concentration camps" and pretend that that is sufficient, we all know how this ends.

When we try to talk about these issues as though it's still acceptable to kick this can down the road - okay you guys, just sit in the morass for awhile because cleaning up the morass would make Beijing angry, eventually we'll figure out how to drain it even though Beijing is opposed to every form of drainage system that works - we know how this ends.

I know that's been how tricky diplomacy has worked for decades - just find a way to put it off until later, even if the people who actually live there have to exist in an anxious limbo for generations - and I'm not the first person to have this thought. But it's not going to keep working. So why are we letting the ghosts of the '80s and '90s try to convince us that it will?

When we pretend that short-term band-aids can fix long-term disagreements, and pretend that there is always a middle ground if we just "keep talking" until we find it, and keep telling the good guys to "just wait" because the bad guys need to "agree" to a solution, when we pretend that the only 'evil' or colonial powers in the world are Western ones, and when we pretend that an oppressive authoritarian regime might possibly - with the right negotiations - be acceptable someday to people in freer places like Hong Kong and Taiwan, or that Beijing is interested in working towards an acceptable solution at all...

...well, we all know how this ends.

Don't pretend that the rest of the world can decline to step in and there will still be a happy ending. Don't pretend that China is actually interested in any sort of happy ending that doesn't result in them getting everything they want, regardless of what others want.

So gird your loins, folks. It might be taboo to give voice to what we're all actually worried about - to say "this could be another Tiananmen, or another Syria, or worse", but...


...unless we make Beijing back down now and stop pretending a compromise exists, that's where it ends and you know it.  

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Hong Kong residents and Taiwanese gather outside Hong Kong representative office in Taipei

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This morning, around the same time that protesters began amassing outside of Hong Kong's legislative council (LegCo) to protest the proposed extradition bill that would allow extraditions from Hong Kong to China, a few hundred Taiwanese and Hong Kong residents gathered outside the Hong Kong representative office in Taipei between Songgao and Xinyi Roads (the office is located in the same building as eslite Xinyi).

I missed the first round of speeches by social activist groups and notable people - including former Sunflower leader Lin Fei-fan - due to work. However, I came by later to find several dozen or perhaps a hundred people still there, braving the worsening rain to continue the demonstration.


Speeches continued after the official line-up had finished, with anyone who wanted the mike able to take it. Longtime expat Sean Kaiteri did so; I did not. In between speeches, a television set up under an awning played a feed of the escalating situation in Hong Kong.


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Most of the speeches were in Cantonese, so I couldn't really understand. A huge number of the protesters were also from Hong Kong - mostly students and interns unable to return to Hong Kong to join their friends and fellow citizens in Central. What struck me was that, while anyone with an ARC (Taiwan residency card) does have freedom of assembly - so they actually can participate in protests, just not organize them - it's a bit less clear if some of the students and interns are technically legally able to do so. Some are only here for a few months. Worryingly, there were reports and rumors of immigration police sweeping through. Otherwise, however, the police left the demonstrators alone and some people who appeared to work in the representative office appeared to be watching the demonstration from just beyond it.



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I had to leave to work on my dissertation, but as far as I know the demonstration is still going on. This isn't likely to end soon and looks like it's getting bad in Hong Kong, so keep your ears open. I suspect there will be more news to come. 


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