Sorry China, we’re happy with our umbrellas and sunflowers
How the Sunflower Movement and the Umbrella Revolution is an utter rejection of China’s One Country, Two Systems policy
One frosty winter day in January of 1979, the Chinese Paramount Leader Deng Xiao-Ping formulated a unique policy to govern Hong Kong in response to the British concerns over governance strategies should Hong Kong be returned to China at the end of its controversial lease, signed over almost a century ago.
While the intended entity for which this policy was originally conceived for (be it Taiwan, Macau, or Hong Kong) has changed, the basic framework remains the same. A return to being under the governance of the People’s Republic of China, and in exchange, the ability to operate under a separate economic and political system. For the United Kingdom, the incorporation of the One-Country, Two Systems policy points into the Sino-British Joint Declaration was enough to convince them to return the sovereignty of Hong Kong back to the People’s Republic.
But how has this policy played out in the 21st century?
Logically speaking, this is a no-brainer. Continuing the lease of Hong Kong to the United Kingdom would be immoral, given the imperialistic background of the lease, and the political firestorm that the Chinese domestic populace would stir up over losses in “face”. Hong Kong would keep its democratic practice, a system that it has enjoyed for decades, and China gets to keep its “face”.
However, looking at the two major political/social movements in the recent years, the Umbrella and Sunflower Movements in Hong Kong and Taiwan, respectively, it becomes clear that this policy is flawed.
For Hong Kong, the Umbrella Movement represents a yearning for true democracy by the younger generations. Started by university students campaigning for “real universal suffrage” , it has since then evolved into a push for direct elections for the head of the Hong Kong Government, an aspect of democracy that it was promised to have under the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
In analyzing the demands of the Umbrella Revolution, it is clear that Hong Kong is merely operating under the framework of the One China Two Systems policy. Hong Kong has long enjoyed freedom of information, independent judiciary, common law, and (relative) freedom of press – all aspects of a Western system – yet, as these rights become natural to many of the youths, it is then natural that they seek the political rights that are associated with the above freedoms.
Regardless of other factors, the fundamental issue with the One China Two Systems policy lies here. The Beijing Government would never permit Hong Kong to directly elect its leader, in the case that a localist, anti-Beijing candidate is selected – an act that would encourage other autonomous regions such as Tibet and Xinjiang to do the same. Regional instability aside, for Beijing, this is a headache – much of these autonomous regions have a separate ethnic, cultural, or historical background, making them naturally antipathic towards Beijing’s rule. By permitting direct elections in Hong Kong, this would only stoke anti-Beijing sentiments in China’s fringe regions.
Looking at Taiwan, the recent Sunflower Movement protested against the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA), which the organizers claimed to have been negotiated under opaqueness and, later forced by the ruling party to be voted upon in its entirety without due process review. However, in the macroscopic perspective, the Sunflower Movement represented more of an indigenous push against perceived Chinese influences in the Taiwanese politics. While it may not be characterized by direct assimilation or increased political control, the recent surges in economic interdependence, demonstrated through the increases in bilateral trade and investment, have caused voters to doubt Beijing’s intention – especially concerning a path to eventual unification through economic assimilation.
The Taiwanese people endured 38 years of violent authoritarian repression under the martial law, where even the most basic of human rights were stripped away on the mere suspicion of communist affiliations. It wasn’t until 1996, a staggering 47 years after the modern foundation of Taiwan, that the people of Taiwan could directly elect their president.
Given this, democracy has become an integral aspect of Taiwan that is cherished dearly – as political commentaries often contrast Taiwan’s vibrant democracy with China’s single party state. . When considering this, there is no doubt that Taiwan would never willingly give up its present democratic self-governance in exchange for a limited version of its democracy under the One Country Two Systems framework.
Especially not after it saw what became of Hong Kong.
The fundamental issue in the One Country Two Systems framework is sovereignty. Evidently there will be cultural and socioeconomic differences, but the main barrier to a reunified China under said framework would be legal ownership. China has long attempted to portray any cross-strait issues as the domestic issue of China, which prevents international intervention under international law. Should Taiwan agree to such system, it would be committing political suicide.
As a Taiwanese citizen, I have seen the dangers of Hong Kong’s political future. Despite the promises of direct elections, the people of Hong Kong are still denied to have a legitimate say in their leader. Despite the assurances of judicial independence, the people of Hong Kong are routinely subjected to extrajudicial detentions when they exercise their freedom to question authority. Despite the commitments towards political autonomy, the people of Hong Kong are denied the basic right of electing their leader. A simple conclusion can be drawn: the people of Hong Kong are, unfortunately, not free. Imprisoned by the One Country Two Systems framework, the full potential of the free people of Hong Kong can never be realized.
If the One Country Two Systems framework was designed as a plan for reunification, it has utterly failed. We do not want your flawed system. We are better off without reunification with China. Sorry China, but as insignificant as you think they are, we, as the free peoples of Taiwan and Hong Kong, are happy with our umbrellas and sunflowers.
Chuang is a contributor for The Millennial Times.