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Will Hong Kong Unrest Affect Politics in Taiwan?


Police use pepper spray as they clash with pro-democracy protesters at an area near the government headquarters building in Hong Kong early October 16, 2014.

Police use pepper spray as they clash with pro-democracy protesters at an area near the government headquarters building in Hong Kong early October 16, 2014.

Voters in Taiwan are preparing to choose to vote in local elections that may be partly shaped by protests in Hong Kong. As the election gets closer, leaders of both of the country’s main political parties are being pressured to strongly support democracy activists in Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong protestors are angry that China will not permit a fully open election for the territory’s leader and legislature. China says a nominating group will choose the candidates for chief executive. That group has many members who are loyal to China.

China took control of Hong Kong from Britain in 1997. It placed the territory under its “one country, two systems” form of government. China promised Hong Kong that it would have control of its economic and political systems for 50 years.

Wu Mei-hung is the deputy minister of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council. She says the moves by China in Hong Kong worry many Taiwanese.

She says her office and the people of Taiwan support the people of Hong Kong in their efforts to choose their own leader. She says her office hopes the Hong Kong government and leaders in mainland China can use wisdom, acceptance of different opinions, talks and other peaceful methods to reach an agreement.

Late last month, hundreds of activists gathered in Taiwan’s capital Taipei in support of the pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong.

Political science experts say the Taiwanese are closely watching the way China is dealing with Hong Kong. Experts say the Taiwanese worry that China would suppress democracy in their nation if the two countries were unified. Democracy has grown strong in Taiwan since the end of martial law in 1987.

Lai I-chung is the vice president of the research group Taiwan Think Tank. He says Taiwanese think differently of Hong Kong now that Communist China has taken control of the territory from Britain.

“I think they’re now looking at Hong Kong as a place that’s already a Chinese territory. Since Taiwan has been democratized and Hong Kong is reverting back to China, Hong Kong is no longer presented as a new place for hope or place for modernity, not a place Taiwan would like to learn from.”

Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou cheers with the audience during National Day celebrations marking the 103rd anniversary of the founding of the Republic of China in Taipei, Taiwan, Friday, Oct. 10, 2014.

Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou cheers with the audience during National Day celebrations marking the 103rd anniversary of the founding of the Republic of China in Taipei, Taiwan, Friday, Oct. 10, 2014.

Ma Ying-jeou became president of Taiwan in 2008. He has created trust with China through trade and investment deals. Since Mr. Ma’s election, Taiwanese and Chinese officials met for the first time. Those talks led to more than 20 trade agreements that have helped Taiwan, which depends on exports to remain economically healthy. But Mr. Ma will not talk about political issues. This has angered China. And he has said he supports the pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong.

Charles Chen is a spokesman for the ruling Nationalist Party, which Ma Ying-jeou leads.

Mr. Chen says the president believes democracy and rule of law are important to the Taiwanese people. He says the Nationalist Party will continue to show support for people in Hong Kong who want democracy and the rule of law.

Last month, Mr. Ma spoke to Al-Jazeera television. He said he was worried about Hong Kong. He called Taiwan the only Chinese democracy. And he rejected China’s plan to rule Taiwan.

He says if the people of Hong Kong are permitted to choose their own leaders it would help China’s international reputation. He says Taiwan has been very clear that it does not support China’s “one country, two systems” method of governing. He says a good system would be “one side, one system.”

Raymond Wu is managing director of e-telligence, a research group in Taipei. He says China does not understand Taiwanese democracy.

“It is obviously a gap between the perception in Beijing and the reality here of Taiwan. Just in a very generic way, the pursuit of freedom and democracy, if that’s what the Hong Kong people support, should be something all the neighboring countries pay close attention to.”

Would "One Country, Two Systems" work in Taiwan?

Some Taiwanese wonder if China’s “one country, two systems” policy would work if China takes control of Taiwan. Political experts say support for Hong Kong’s democracy movement may have increased in Taiwan after recent comments by China’s leader.

China's President Xi Jinping (R) walks with retired leaders Jiang Zemin (C) and Hu Jintao (L) as they arrive at the National Day Reception to mark the 65th anniversary of the founding of People's Republic of China, at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing.

China's President Xi Jinping (R) walks with retired leaders Jiang Zemin (C) and Hu Jintao (L) as they arrive at the National Day Reception to mark the 65th anniversary of the founding of People's Republic of China, at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing.

President Xi Jinping told a group of visiting Taiwanese that Taiwan should consider accepting the “one country, two systems” policy. Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council says more than 70 percent of Taiwanese oppose the policy. However, Taiwan is considering if its president should meet with Mr. Xi in Beijing next month. It would be the first time the two presidents have ever met.

Taiwan has ruled itself since the 1940s, when the Nationalist government lost the Chinese civil war to the Communists and re-established itself in Taipei.

Some experts say Taiwan will not influence Hong Kong and China. Others say China does not want to anger Taiwan so it may not react strongly to the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. They say Taiwanese political opinion is important to China’s long-term goal of peaceful unification.

Local elections in Taiwan may affect relations with China. A victory by the ruling Nationalist Party could help the party keep the presidency in 2016. It would also show support for four more years of negotiations with China. But if the opposition Democratic Progressive Party wins the elections next month and in 2016, it may mean less-friendly relations with China. The Democratic Progressive Party was in power from 2000 to 2008. It angered China during that time by supporting Taiwan’s legal independence from the mainland.

Chen I-hsin is a professor of international affairs at Tamkang University in Taiwan. He says the country’s two main political parties are now making stronger statements about China.

He says both the Nationalist and Democratic Progressive Party will be increasingly critical of China as elections get closer.

I’m Anna Matteo.

Correspondent Ralph Jennings reported this story from Taipei. Christopher Cruise wrote it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor. Anna Matteo was the producer.

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Words in This Story

opposition – n. a political party that is trying to replace the political party in power

suppress – v. to slow or stop the growth, development, or normal functioning of (something)

martial law – n. control of an area by military forces rather than by the police

reputation – n. the common opinion that people have about someone or something; the way in which people think of someone or something

influence – v. to affect or change (someone or something) in an indirect but usually important way; to have an influence on (someone or something)

independence n. freedom from outside control or support; the state of being independent

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