Sunday, August 18, 2013

Taiwan's future already signaled by Hong Kong?

Dragonfly, Taiwan
Dragonfly grabbing a break.

As I have noted many times, the biggest obstacle China faces in annexing Taiwan is its democracy. It ain't a perfect one, but it has been incorporated into the social identity of the Taiwanese and is now an important part of being Taiwanese. Hong Kong may be showing where things are heading. From SCMP:
Dangerous and ominous developments are occurring in Hong Kong politics, yet not a single senior official has cared to comment on them. They have, though, had a great deal to say about disruption that might be caused during an event which may not occur next year.

Not for the first time, but with greater swagger and clearer evidence of organisation, a bunch of thugs, including triad-linked gangsters, were sent to "deal with" anti-government protesters at the chief executive's public forum in Tin Shui Wai last Sunday.

In case there is a scintilla of doubt as to their intention, Tsang Shu-wo, one of the rural chieftains, proudly admitted that he had mobilised 40 villagers for this event and later said: "It is normal to have bloodshed if we are protecting Yuen Long. Let's see who will shed more blood."

At the demonstration itself, the thugs demanded that the police cease hampering their activities because they were "protecting the government". Fortunately, they were largely ignored and arrests were made, but anyone looking at the many videos of this event will note that the police also stood back while anti-government protesters were attacked. These videos also show it was far from being a spontaneous protest, as those giving the orders were not subtle enough to avoid the cameras.

This is not an isolated incident; I have witnessed an intimidating group of "protesters" outside Broadcasting House who got very angry when, in the spirit of journalism, I asked them what they were protesting about.

There is nothing new about authoritarian governments using gangs of thugs to intimidate opponents. It was a favoured tactic of the former Kuomintang dictatorship in Taiwan before democracy took hold. Today, it is the hallmark of Robert Mugabe's thuggish government in Zimbabwe; and so on. While these governments sit back and allow the thugs to do their work for them, they have the gall to blame their opponents for the violence.


I have been loath to jump to the conclusion that there is an attempt to turn Hong Kong politics in a more violent direction but the evidence is increasingly pointing in that direction.

Fortunately, we have not yet reached the tipping point where thugs hold sway and they are licensed by the government to do their worst - indeed, many frontline police officers are doing their best to prevent this. However, the signs should not be ignored.
Many of us saw in the recent return from China of a major gangster with old connections to Taiwan's security state a signal, perhaps, of where Taiwan might be heading. He subsequently stated that he was going to participate in support of pro-China politics in Taiwan. J Michael Cole has commented forcefully on the use of individuals claiming to be plainclothes police to intimidate and coerce onlookers and journalists here in Taiwan.
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums!


Aris Teon said...

Hi Michael,

indeed, people in Hong Kong can clearly feel that things are getting worse year by year.

I don't know if you have heard of that Hong Kong primary school teacher who shouted at police officers during a demonstration because the police wasn't protecting Falun Gong practitioners from harassment by a Communist organisation.

Well, she has been denigrated in all possible ways. The SCMP itself today had 2 articles against her, one letter from a reader that criticised her. And there was also an article by a professor who condemned the pro-democracy movement. So, four articles basically against 'dissent' in just one edition.

Even the SCMP seems to give more voice to pro-establishment, pro-Beijing groups. Not to mention other papers, such as the Oriental Daily and the Standard... A pretty grim situation, and I don't think it's going to get any better.

Tommy said...

In general, I agree that this is most concerning. I do want to throw some other possibilities in the ring though, just for the sake of being the devil's advocate.

I had not seen the comment by the rural chieftain, but it should be mentioned that the power of rural clans has always been very strong in the New Territories. In fact, one of HK's most powerful political organizations, the Heung Yee Kuk, exists to champion local interests in the NT.

It is unsurprising that such interests highly favor the establishment. As a land-scarce society where most land is concentrated in the NT, NT land owners have a considerable degree of interest in supporting a regime that will line their pockets with revenue. The administration of Leung Chun-ying is currently in a push to make populist brownie points by developing as much housing as it can. The administration is looking for land everywhere it can find it. Indeed, others who might also be looking for land, such as in industry, have been unable to get new government land released to them (it all goes to housing) or even private land (it is very expensive and it can be difficult to navigate the patchwork land rights system that is a holdover from the 19th century.

FYI, the head of the Heung Yee Kuk, one Lau Wong-fat, is a billionaire land mogul. He has been entrenched for a very long time. He also sits on LegCo because the Heung Yee Kuk has a Functional Constituency seat. He also happens to be the chairman of the District Council of Tuen Mun, which neighbors Yuen Long. And, did I mention that he has huuuuge tracts of land? He is also pro-Beijing. After all, why wouldn't he or any of his allies be? They have benefited enormously from the current political arrangement. In fact, any move to really democratize HK would undermine his interests. What, the Kuk lose its functional constancy seat? What, make it possible that the Kuk and Lau himself would have to earn their place in the system?

Now, I am sure you, like me, can't possibly imagine that some power broker in the NT would have links to triads and that that power broker might use his links to make an example of politicians that seek to up-end their apple cart. I am not implicating Lau himself, just using him as an example to point out that there are deeply entrenched interests that do not serve the current administration but that have found support for the administration expedient. And that some of them would not hesitate to call in shady types to enforce the peace in their own style.

As for the passivity of police, the HK police and the triads have had an arrangement for a very long time. The triads pretty much do what they want. Neither side messes with the other or steps too far out of line. This is why open violence related to organized crime in HK is so low. So if you were a cop with a family, and you saw some obviously questionable characters on the scene, you might be cautious. Being daring is hardly a trait of the HK police.

None of this means you are wrong and that things are not going in disturbing directions here (they are). It just means that the pot is almost certainly murkier than it looks on the surface. But that is Hong Kong for you. The SURFACE here always looks placid and beautiful.