Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Taiwanese voters have spoken: what do the elections mean for Tsai Ing-wen’s party, and China?

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion›United States
Sonny Lo

Sonny Lo says Taiwan’s ruling party has only itself to blame for voters’ revolt However, the KMT’s strong showing does not make it a shoo-in for the presidential election, and Beijing should see the importance of respecting voters’ wishes

The strong comeback of the opposition Kuomintang in Taiwan’s elections on Saturday has important implications not only for the island’s political development but also for cross-strait relations in the coming years. The governing Democratic Progressive Party suffered a serious setback, losing seven of the 13 city and county seats it had held since 2014, while the KMT captured 15 seats, up from only six four years ago.

Significantly, in the mayoral races, the KMT’s Han Kuo-yu convincingly defeated the DPP’s Chen Chi-mai in Kaohsiung, a traditional DPP stronghold that the party had held for 20 years, while two other KMT candidates, Hou You-yi and Lu Shiow-yen, captured New Taipei City and Taichung. In Taipei, although independent candidate Ko Wen-je declared victory, his KMT opponent Ting Shou-chung has filed for a recount. The DPP’s poor showing led to President Tsai Ing-wen’s resignation as party chairwoman, setting the stage for a DPP leadership struggle.

First and foremost, the DPP has only itself to blame for voters’ revolt. To the minds of many Kaohsiung residents, the deadly gas explosions of July 2014 and severe flooding of August 2018 were testimony to the DPP’s maladministration, and former mayor Chen Chu leaving the city to join the presidential secretariat was proof of DPP officials’ opportunism.

The victory of Han Kuo-yu, the straightforward, charismatic KMT candidate who dubbed himself a “bald-headed vegetable vendor”, was foreshadowed on the night of November 23, when a reported 150,000 residents turned up for his campaign rally. The DPP had been losing ground among farmers and workers, and the party’s elite was seen as being more interested in political power at the central level than in local governance and people’s livelihoods, a perception underlined by the KMT’s win in Kaohsiung.

Second, the uncharismatic Tsai’s resignation as DPP chairwoman has kicked off a contest for the leadership of the party. Premier William Lai appears to be a hot contender for the 2020 presidential election, while Tsai could grow increasingly unpopular and even be ousted. Regardless of who will lead the DPP in 2020, time is tight for the party, which must undergo drastic reforms to win back many Taiwanese, who have come to detest the DPP for being all slogans and no action.

Third, the KMT’s strong showing does not mean that it is a shoo-in in the 2020 presidential race. Predictably, the political tsunami that hit the DPP over the weekend is also shaking up the KMT. Apart from former president Ma Ying-jeou, who has set up a foundation and sparked talk of his interest in a political comeback, KMT presidential contenders include Eric Chu and Wang Jin-pyng. But rising political star Han Kuo-yu, who helped the KMT win the key battleground of Kaohsiung, could emerge as a kingmaker in the selection of the KMT’s 2020 presidential candidate.

Fourth, independent candidate Ko’s narrow win in the Taipei mayoral race has dimmed his presidential hopes. Even if he decides to run for president in 2020, he is unlikely to win without support from any party machinery. Although most voters who dislike both the DPP and KMT see Ko as a representative of a third force in Taiwanese politics, this third force remains loosely organised and relatively weak. It remains to be seen whether it can be a united front posing a serious challenge to the DPP and KMT.

Fifth, most voters have taken a pragmatic approach to the referendum. They opposed three out of the 10 referendum questions, specifically the ones which asked whether the island should: use the name Taiwan at international sporting events; include gender equality in school textbooks; and, legalise same-sex marriage.

About 52 per cent, 62 per cent and 63 per cent rejected the proposals respectively, showing the conservatism of Taiwan’s voters. Hence, some members of the third force who advocate liberalising Taiwan further are likely to encounter political resistance in the short term.

The results of Taiwan’s elections also have implications for Beijing-Taipei relations. Beijing upholds the 1992 consensus between the Chinese Communist Party and the KMT, a position that Han Kuo-yu has endorsed.

Yet, the willingness of the Taiwanese to express their policy preferences in referendums means that Beijing needs to consider their wishes. As such, leaders in Beijing will have to adopt a pragmatic approach in dealing with Taiwan, emphasising measures that can and will facilitate mutual economic interaction. People’s livelihoods should be put ahead of political issues. China and Taiwan would do well to enhance socio-cultural and economic interactions in the coming years.

Sonny Lo is a professor of politics at HKU SPACE

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Freedoms are being compromised in Hong Kong, why can’t Carrie Lam just own up to that?

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion›Hong Kong
Michael Chugani

Michael Chugani says the Carrie Lam administration should stop pretending that things are the same in Hong Kong Hong Kong has become a city where a journalist is blacklisted as a tourist, and an arts venue needs to second-guess Beijing

It doesn’t matter how many times Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor repeats herself. The same goes for her top aides. Saying over and over again Hong Kong is as free as it ever was doesn’t make it true. There is now a tightening noose around our freedom. 

We all know this, even the Beijing loyalists. The only difference is that they choose to remain silent. If our freedom isn’t under attack, why did Japanese reporters feel the need to bombard Lam with questions about it during her recent Tokyo visit?

If we still had the exact same rights as before, would Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung need to reassure a sceptical UN Human Rights Council in Geneva this month? Would Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu have to insist the entry ban on journalist Victor Mallet had nothing to do with press freedom?

It had everything to do with media freedom. That’s why Japanese journalists grilled Lam. That’s why Cheung had to spin a story in front of the global human rights community. And that’s why Tai Kwun director Timothy Calnin had to second-guess what Beijing would think of the heritage site hosting dissident writer Ma Jian as part of the Hong Kong International Literary Festival.

The reasons Calnin gave for cancelling, then uncancelling, plans to host Ma are so ludicrous, I am not even sure he is the right man to head a cultural venue. First, he said he would not allow anyone to use Tai Kwun to promote political interests. Then, he said he accepted Ma’s word that he would not promote his politics.

It’s a literary festival, for goodness’ sake. Writers express views, even political ones. Would Calnin disinvite former United States first lady Michelle Obama for taking a swipe at President Donald Trump in her book, Becoming? I am a lifelong journalist and it insults my intelligence for our leaders to say nothing has changed when much has changed.

The record will show that I always took issue with those who claimed media freedom here was dying. There is a difference between self-censorship and media freedom. Self-censorship is a voluntary act of media owners for political and opportunist reasons, and of reporters second-guessing their bosses. It happens even in Western democracies.

Media freedom is the right to publish without fear of retribution from the authorities. We still have that freedom but the government has endangered it, first by revoking Mallet’s work visa for moderating a Foreign Correspondents’ Club talk by an independence advocate, then by blacklisting him as a tourist.

In the past year or so, Hong Kong has blacklisted Mallet, barred British human rights activist Benedict Rogers from entering and banned young activists such as Agnes Chow Ting from running for the Legislative Council: developments that, in sum, have made me wake up to the fact that I no longer recognise the city where I was born, raised and now work as a journalist.

I am not judging whether it’s right or wrong for the authorities to tamper with the freedoms we have grown up with. All I am saying is that things are no longer what they were. Wouldn’t it be better for Lam’s credibility if she could admit that Beijing sees Hong Kong through a different lens from that of our former colonial rulers – if she could stop pretending that things are the same?

The record will also show I’m no China basher. But I have to say that, for the first time as a journalist, I feel a pall over our freedoms. Many Hongkongers have told me the same thing. Hong Kong once took pride in being the jewel in Britain’s crown. President Xi Jinping’s message to a Hong Kong delegation led by Lam this week suggests he wants the city to remain the jewel in China’s crown.

But, for that to happen, Beijing must stop tightening its grip on Hong Kong for fear of demons lurking everywhere to threaten national security. I can fully understand Beijing’s determination to safeguard national security but surely that can be done without strangling Hong Kong’s freedoms.

Michael Chugani is a Hong Kong journalist and TV show host

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As Hong Kong localists mine Britain’s diplomatic archives, will they unleash a Pandora’s box of problems?

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion›Hong Kong
Tai Hing-shing

Tai Hing-shing says young Hongkongers’ efforts to study declassified British documents are commendable, and could help Hong Kong know its history better. But it is dangerous to rush to rewrite history, and imprudent to regard diplomatic cables as fact before cross-checking them

In traditional Chinese culture, the greatest role of history is to connect with real life and serve reality. Take Sima Guang’s monumental chronicle of Chinese history, in which the author summed up lessons for rulers to learn from. The Song emperor Shenzong said of the work, “A view of the past aids governance,” hence its title, Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government.

In Hong Kong, there have been social movements and political protests large and small in recent years and historical studies of governance here during the British era have also sprouted like bamboo shoots after a spring rain, in the hope of finding a new use for history. Already, some localists have formed a “2018 London files mining team” to sort out 300 declassified British government files on Hong Kong at Britain’s National Archives.

Leaving aside their politics, the young Hongkongers should be given credit for ardently organising and studying the declassified British official documents. First, discussions on Hong Kong history in academic circles here have been one-sided for many years, and most of them start from a nationalist perspective. It’s a good thing that young people are trying to break through the traditional nationalist framework, rewrite Hong Kong history and “let a hundred flowers bloom”.

Second, the unsealing of first-hand information in the secret British files means that there is a lot of valuable material for historical research. It helps academics expand their research and the public deepen their understanding of Hong Kong’s history and identity.

In particular, many of the documents were written by diplomatic officials who had the privilege of access to social and political figures in Britain, China and Hong Kong, were in communication with decision-makers in three governments, and could clearly explain details of the formulation and implementation of previous British policies on Hong Kong. If the files are put in order, they can present the truth to the public, who might otherwise be confused by fake news.

However, these sensitive documents may not fulfil any function beyond this. If the emphasis on official documents becomes an obsession, to the extent that diplomatic archives become the only source of historical research, there will be many drawbacks.

As British diplomat Henry Wotton once said, “An ambassador is an honest man who is sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.” Those who engage in diplomacy cannot be expected to completely divulge their motives. In communication with outsiders, they deliberately create one smokescreen after another. In other words, the authenticity of information given and received by diplomats through their communication channels must be carefully confirmed.

Last year, the British archives declassified a raft of diplomatic cables from 1989, including one the ambassador to Beijing, Alan Ewen Donald, sent to London the day after the June 4 incident. He wrote that a member of the Chinese State Council had informed the British that the Chinese military had killed at least 10,000 people in the crackdown. After the cable was made public, it received extensive coverage in the Hong Kong media.

I dare not say Donald’s cable was inaccurate. However, if one applies common sense, fake news would have proliferated in the tense political climate then, and the credibility of the intelligence collected by British diplomats in Beijing does need to be carefully evaluated. The media must also be extremely rigorous in the publication of such material. In the absence of sufficient proof, a document cannot be easily regarded as fact.

In historical research, it is necessary to pay attention to official information, but also to verify the information from multiple parties, especially in the case of foreign official documents. Take Shen Zhihua, a Chinese expert on the Korean peninsula who used Soviet archives to publish seminal works on the Korean war. Not many people know that he also studied American documents and gained rare access to Chinese archives to carry out cross-checks.

Of course, for well-known reasons, the Chinese government has opened far fewer of its archives to the outside world. But it should speed up the opening of its archives. Scholars of Hong Kong history can only refer to the British archives if the Chinese do not open theirs, which means the British have more say in recounting Sino-British confrontations over political events in Hong Kong – and the Hong Kong localists have more ammunition.

Let me give two recent examples. First, Britain has declassified a 1987 file on Li Ka-shing, revealing a secret letter to London in which Lord Derwent, then managing director of Hutchison Whampoa (Europe), pointed out that the Hong Kong tycoon was “violently anti-communist”. Second, the localists have disclosed a 1992 document in which a British representative to the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group, Alan Paul, wrote about meeting future Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying.

In recent years, news of Li has often been about whether he is pulling his capital out of China. At times like these, the revelation of the Li file naturally leads to a heated discussion in Hong Kong. However, Lord Derwent was just a taipan of Li’s company. How deep was his contact with Li? Was he right about Li? For historical researchers, these are questions that surely need to be taken into consideration.

As for the Leung document, the localists have seized on Paul’s analysis of the then would-be chief executive and mocked Leung for leaning towards Beijing since the 1990s. But they seem to be projecting their emotions onto Hong Kong history.

The biggest danger of the localists’ research into the declassified documents may be their lack of objectivity, as they rashly refer to the files without analysing them in depth, or hastily find documents supporting their preconceived notions so they can publicise them in the media to achieve their political goals.

What is history? According to the saying oft quoted by sceptical young people in Hong Kong, “History is written by the winners.” But don’t forget another popular adage: “History is a little girl anyone can dress up.” Playing dress-up with history seems to be an old trick in the localists’ book, and I have to say it is quite regrettable.

Tai Hing-shing is an independent political commentator and international relations scholar. This article is translated from Chinese

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A slow death for Hong Kong’s separate identity in China

South China Morning
Comment›Insight & Opinion›Hong Kong
Philip Bowring

Philip Bowring says the city’s cherished freedoms and rule of law are under serious threat, amid pressure – now exacerbated by intense US-China confrontation – for it to integrate with the mainland and demonstrate loyalty to Beijing

Hong Kong is between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, it is seen overseas and by most residents as a genuinely autonomous region characterised by free trade, free speech, free assembly and the separation of the executive from an independent judiciary. On the other, the government in Beijing and local acolytes regard Hong Kong’s citizens as insufficiently patriotic, prone to exaggerating their rights to autonomy and in need of rapid integration with the rest of China. 

Tension between these perceptions has long existed, but a series of developments has made them far more pronounced and could eventually undermine Hong Kong’s international status, driving foreign companies and finance houses to Singapore or elsewhere. Hong Kong citizens could also find themselves deprived of benefits such as visa-free entry to dozens of countries that they enjoy – and other Chinese do not.

The roots of this enhanced tension go back to two events. One was the installation of Xi Jinping, set on centralising power and enhancing the singular role of the president in place of the more collective-style leadership practised by his two predecessors. His policy centrepieces include anti-corruption at home and nationalism abroad, evidenced by actions ranging from militarily boosting claims to the whole South China Sea, to the Belt and Road Initiative using Chinese money to build infrastructure and enhance China’s global commercial links.

The other event was the so-called 2014 Umbrella Movement, in protest against Beijing’s imposition of rules snuffing out local hopes that autonomy would enable progress to a higher level of democracy. These and other protests infuriated Beijing, and the Hong Kong government has since gradually taken revenge, with long prison terms for some leaders accused of rioting or incitement to riot. Democratically elected legislators have been removed on various legal grounds and others barred from standing for election.

Foreign reaction to Hong Kong’s problem was muted as countries prefer to chase China business or simply view Hong Kong as a useful place regardless of politics because of low taxes and commercial freedoms. However, tensions in recent months have increased as actions by the Hong Kong government against dissident voices coincide with the ramping up of US-China confrontation.

What began as trade-focused moves by President Donald Trump have morphed into a broader US attempt, as evidenced by an October 4 speech by Vice-President Mike Pence, to thwart China’s attempts to achieve technological and power parity, if not ascendancy: “Beijing is employing a whole-of-government approach to advance its influence and benefit its interests … we will continue to stand strong for our security and our economy, even as we hope for improved relations with Beijing.”

Hong Kong itself has been subjected to a barrage of efforts by the local administration to prove its loyalty to Beijing, and its 7 million people are urged to see themselves as part of the Greater Bay Area, where immense business opportunities are supposed to lie. Other moves to reduce Hong Kong’s separate identity include a push to use more Mandarin at the expense of Cantonese.

At the same time, the Hong Kong government has made a full, frontal attack on those advocating greater autonomy, or even independence, reaching a pitch that has drawn protests and international attention. One spark was a speaker invitation by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong to Andy Chan Ho-tin, a leader of the Hong Kong National Party. In retaliation, the government declared the National Party illegal on grounds of sedition and proceeded to deny renewal of a work visa to the Asian editor of the Financial Times, Victor Mallet. His offence: presiding over the lunch meeting in his official capacity as the club’s vice-president.

This seemingly minor visa issue sent shock waves through the legal, business and media communities. Hong Kong, it seemed, is using administrative measures at the instigation of Beijing to suppress freedoms and the rule of law, which were supposed to be a hallmark.

If discussion of Hong Kong is shut down on grounds of doubting Chinese sovereignty, how long would it be before bans are applied to bigger issues – Taiwan, Tibet, the South China Sea and more – or mere discussion of such topics becomes treasonous and criticism of China’s one-party rule is seditious?

Despite the storm of criticism, the government pressed on with shutting down critics, barring a high-profile candidate from running in a by-election on the grounds that she had once called for “self-determination” for Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, as the US-China tariff war heats up, there are worries that a “patriotic” Hong Kong may find it hard to avoid harm. Although Hong Kong manufactures little, the possibility emerges that its role as a re-exporter of mainland goods could come under scrutiny, with the special administrative region accused of tariff avoidance in the same way it provides tax avoidance for many mainland companies. The government insists that it would be “unfair” to target Hong Kong, lobbying Washington to sustain the region’s separate identity.

For now, it is protected by the 1992 US-Hong Kong Policy Act, which provides for special and separate treatment for Hong Kong. In a May review, the US State Department concluded that although there had been some suppression of democratic rights by the central government “inconsistent with China’s commitment” to “a high degree of autonomy” Hong Kong’s differences were “more than sufficient to justify continued special treatment by the United States”.

That remains the case. But the mood is changing. Both the US and China harbour doubts that Hong Kong can be both patriotic and entitled to special economic status. Even in Hong Kong, some voices call for the US to use the Hong Kong Policy Act as a lever to try and reverse authoritarian trends. The US president has authority to interpret the act.

Hong Kong is too valuable to all parties to be relinquished. Erosion of its international status will reduce the city’s significance in a world where globalisation everywhere is under threat from nationalism.

Philip Bowring is a journalist who has been based in Asia since 1973.

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No longer welcome: how, under Trump, the American dream is now out of reach for Chinese immigrants

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion›United States

Chi Wang says the undercurrent of hostility against the Chinese that has been growing in Trump’s America is now affecting American citizens of Chinese origin. Diversity, once a cherished value, is today seen in a different light

The US is a land of immigrants, and of diversity. It is a melting pot of different cultures and identities. Or, at least, that is what we are led to believe. That is the image of America that brings so many people from all over the world to its shores. This hope, this longing for acceptance and a piece of the American dream. 

When I first came to the US, I was not one of those dreamers. I arrived in 1949 as a high school student, never intending to stay. But as the civil war in China ended and a new China formed, it began to look less and less like home. I began to embrace life in America and, ultimately, my new country was transformed into my home.

After living in the US for nearly 70 years, I cannot even consider thinking of anywhere else as home. And yet the US I’m living in today is not the US I remember. It is not the same country that welcomed me as a young man, the country I fell in love with and chose to make my home. The images of acceptance and hope that have compelled so many to come to the US are being replaced by “get out” signs.

To those in China still envisioning the open hands of the Statue of Liberty, I give you this warning – Chinese are no longer welcome here.

Of course, the US has never been as idyllic as the time-worn American slogans of inclusion might have you believe. As a Chinese-American, I have never felt like I fit in 100 per cent. I often find myself facing questions about where I’m from, what country I truly call home. I have lived in the US almost five times as many years as I ever did in China, and yet my American identity is not immediately recognised. The same is true for other Chinese-Americans whose families have lived in the US for generations.

Despite this, however, the curiosity and questions I faced over the years were never antagonistic. They were asked out of curiosity and ignorance – not as an excuse to tell me I do not belong. Today, however, the tone of these questions and the overall atmosphere in the US towards Chinese, Chinese-Americans and even other Asian-Americans has changed.

Now, our individual histories, backgrounds or nationality make no difference. If we look Chinese, we are inextricably linked to the People’s Republic of China. And, as the American leadership has made so painfully clear, we are now considered potential enemies.

For many in the US, our top leaders among them, the Chinese people are being seen as synonymous with the Chinese government. It is an odd sentiment coming from a country where the public, media and other government officials outwardly and loudly contradict and disagree with official policy.

While Americans enjoy the luxury of travelling to other countries and claiming a degree of distance from the actions of their government, they are not extending that same consideration to the Chinese. Even worse, they are lumping their fellow American citizens in with the foreign government as well.

In 2017, there were more than 350,000 Chinese students studying in the US, often paying full price for tuition. In 2016, 3 million Chinese tourists travelled to the US, spending US$33 billion. Despite the economic benefit, however, their presence in the US is often negatively received. Their behaviour is often mocked and their prevalence at tourist sites and college campuses is often treated like a plague rather than the financial boon it actually is.

And today, in President Donald Trump’s more hostile America, the environment is getting worse. For Chinese, the solution is simple – pick a university or travel destination in a more welcoming country.

For Chinese-Americans, however, our options are much more limited. We are being made to feel like strangers in our own home. For many, the US is the only place they or their parents have ever lived. For others, their countries of birth have changed so much since they left, or they themselves have changed, that those places are no longer recognisable. We are left homeless.

For me, I left before the People’s Republic of China was officially founded. In the years that followed, the changes China went through made it so that Beijing could no longer be considered my home. During the Cultural Revolution, my mother was killed by Red Guards and my family homes were confiscated, including the home that was intended to be a gift to me from my mother when I returned to China with my wife. Now, I have nothing to go back to.

Taiwan and Hong Kong have more freedoms and are great places to visit, but they are likewise not home. I would be an outsider, trying to start anew. And that is something I am definitely too old to do.Hate and prejudice have seeped into the mainstream. After all, when our president acts that way, why should others show restraint?

So, like the 5 million other Chinese-Americans, I am trying to reconcile my own American identity with the hostile environment my country has now become. How do we remain patriotic when our president speaks of us with hate and scorn? How do we stay proud when our fellow Americans accuse us of spying for a country we’ve never been a citizen of?

I hope the situation in the US will improve, that calmer voices will prevail and American diversity will once more be embraced. However, I am not sure that a new president would even be enough to change things. Hate and prejudice have now seeped into the mainstream. After all, when our president acts that way, why should others show restraint? I can’t help but fear that damage has already been done and will continue to resonate for years to come.

I still love America. I am glad I moved here all those years ago and am grateful for the life I’ve made here. But if I were a 17-year-old Chinese student living in the US today, I am not sure I would have stayed. I have no regrets about my own life, but I don’t think my American dream is as accessible for Chinese immigrants any more.

Chi Wang, a former head of the Chinese section of the US Library of Congress and former university librarian at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, is president of the US-China Policy Foundation