A Message for Taiwan in a Ruling on Hong Kong  

by R. Thomas Berner
Intellectual Capital.Com
August 5 - 12, 1999 Volume 4 Issue 31

To see how Taiwan would fare under Beijing's "one country, two systems" policy, just look at recent events in Hong Kong.

When I returned from teaching in China five years ago, I spoke to local groups about my experience. Invariably, someone would ask how I thought Hong Kong would fare when it reverted to the People's Republic of China in 1997."Hong Kong is dinked," I would reply consistently. "Beijing is not going to let anybody under its control follow a different set of rules. In China, it's Beijing's way or no way."

The only surprise was that it took two years before Beijing made it clear that the late Deng Xiaoping's promise of "one country, two systems" did not mean anything.

Assurance for Taiwan

The clarity came last month when the Standing Committee of China's National People's Congress unanimously overruled an immigration ruling by a Hong Kong court. The court had ruled that anyone in China with a parent who was a permanent resident of Hong Kong could move to Hong Kong.

That meant Hong Kong, not Beijing, would decide what 1.6 million (the number is in dispute) affected Chinese could do, and that did not sit well in Beijing. Beijing effectively reneged on its promise to allow the Hong Kong legal system some autonomy, and therein lies a not-too-subtle message for Taiwan.

Communist China preached the one-country, two-systems policy to assure Taiwan that it would retain some autonomy when the two countries reunify. In fact, the People's Republic of China regards Taiwan not as a separate country but as a renegade province that will return to the fold soon. Taiwan has said reunification will occur, but only after the mainland embraces democratic principles similar to the ones the Taiwanese practice.

It does not really matter how sincere Deng was when he first enunciated the one-country, two-systems policy in (appropriately) 1984. And it does not really matter how sincere his successor, Jiang Zemin, is about implementing it. The Communist system will not tolerate deviance.

Jiang is no more capable of enforcing the policy than President Clinton is of mandating that Congress pay the United States' debts to the United Nations. In fact, Clinton has a better chance. The Communists ruling China are highly divided among themselves and often send mixed signals.

The lowest-common-denominator principle

Take Tibet, a supposedly autonomous part of China, although less so than Hong Kong. When Tibetan elders selected a new religious leader, the Panchen Lama, second only to the exiled Dalai Lama, the poor boy was placed under house arrest in Beijing, and the Communists proceeded to name someone else, now 9 years old and a first-time visitor to Tibet last month.

Beijing claimed its choice was greatly loved, but when the rulers sent the boy to tour Tibet, it was, according to news accounts, with heavily armed guards.

Communist China operates on what I call the lowest-common-denominator principle. No one can appear to be above that principle, and so all Chinese are condemned to live in a regressive society.

Because of this principle, the rulers in Beijing also must grow their own leaders to demonstrate the superiority of Communist China. Thus, rather than just affix Hong Kong and subsume its economic success, the rulers in Beijing will diminish Hong Kong until Shanghai is the economic center of China.

Then no one has to credit the British, who rented Hong Kong for a century, for any economic success that came with Hong Kong's reversion to the mainland.

One nation, one system

Shanghai, in other words, is the favored city. Right now, Disney is negotiating to build a theme park in Hong Kong. But Shanghai also is in the running, and if I were a betting man, I would predict that the rulers in Beijing will decree that Shanghai gets the park.

Mainland China has a chance of becoming a great nation, but I do not expect to see that happen in my lifetime. Perhaps my 18-month-old granddaughter will visit a much-improved China -- when she is a senior citizen.

Until then, Taiwan should take note of what happened in Hong Kong if it wants to see how the one-country, two-systems policy really works. It does not. In Beijing's eyes, there is only one country, one system, and it has a red star for a symbol.

*** R. Thomas Berner is a professor of journalism and American studies
at Pennsylvania State University. His e-mail address is bx2@psu.edu, and
he has written many op-ed pieces.

WTN World Tibet Network News AUGUST 99