Today brings us several articles on the Hong Kong protests, including one from Jeffrey Wasserstrom, the well known scholar, in Foreign Policy, and another from John Garnaut, the Australian journalist who actually gets Taiwan.
Several years ago I had a conversation with an acutely intelligent friend who is also an acutely intelligent observer of Taiwan, and he pointed out that the Chen Shui-bian Administration had done such a good job separating Taiwan from China that at academic conferences his work on Taiwan had less relevance because it wasn't about China, which was hot. Indeed, this separation has gone so well that Taiwan has vanished off the media radar, as we found when the Sunflower protests were so woefully underreported. Wasserstrom's piece surprisingly reproduces this China-centric view of the Hong Kong protests, reviewing the way the protesters replicate the past behaviors of students protesting in China, with a nod to the Occupy movement in the US:
The Hong Kong protesters have shown themselves tremendously resourceful, able to borrow freely and creatively from many different sorts of movements. They are aware of --and draw strength from local struggles of the past. They borrow from the playbook of Chinese revolutionary heroes and from the mainland students of 1989. As their leader, they have even picked Joshua Wong, a noted participant in the 2012 protests in Hong Kong. They have also looked for inspiration to other parts of the world. The student protesters allied with Hong Kong’s Occupy Central activists, for example, who embody the spirit of New York City’s Occupy Wall Street movement and are largely concerned with economics and inequality.Yet though the piece is about searching for an analogy for the Hong Kong protests, it totally omits any reference to Taiwan, whose recent Sunflower protests in many ways shaped the current round of protests -- there are many links and parallels between the two, from the links between the protesters themselves to the reporters who covered both -- and were treated in the same way by the government, right down to the deployment of nationalist gangsters against the protesters. Moreover Hong Kong and Taiwan face a similar set of economic and social problems -- high housing prices, rampant income inequality, rule by tycoons, and so on, as well as an increasingly powerful non-China local identity, especially among the young, incompetent and divided pro-democracy parties, and an overarching China invasion that threatens many aspects of local lives and identities.This omission is all the more puzzling because Wasserstrom interviewed Shelly Rigger on the Sunflower protests in Dissent...
Thus, one could hardly find a better analogy for Hong Kong than Taiwan, but Wasserstrom thinks of China in terms of China -- deployment of Chinese history to explain Chinese history is a kind of legitimating shibboleth among China hands, like the way New Testament scholars deploy knowledge of Greek to fence the boundaries of their field, or business scholars use advanced statistics to turn data porridge into scholarly bisque. But the Hong Kong protests can't really be understood in terms of Chinese historical protests (isn't part of the issue the fact that Hong Kongers don't feel Chinese?). They have to be seen in some other context: globally as part of the global movement against the growing concentration of wealth in a few hands, the rule of corporate power, the widespread corruption at the top of governments, and the disappearance of economic opportunity for the middle classes, and locally, against the overarching drive of Beijing to annex and suppress democracy and local identities, like the protests in Tibet, Xinjiang, and.... Taiwan.
PS: Don't miss this piece on the secret history of Hong Kong democracy: the reason that Hong Kong never got self-governance from the Brits is because Beijing threatened to invade if Britain made Hong Kong a democracy. Hence the bullshit from fake leftists that compares/criticizes Britain's never giving Hong Kong representative government with China's current deal is.... bullshit.
John Garnaut, the Aussie journalist, does what Wasserstrom failed to do, and locates the Taiwan/Hong Kong protests in their proper context: the problems of "mainlandization" of China's peripheries and corporate power, where corporations serve Beijing's goals:
Before the umbrella protests of Hong Kong it was easier to believe that it was only a matter of time before the peripheries were fully absorbed into the empire and made safe for Chinese Communist Party rule. And that's the way the way that Hong Kong's great multinational banks, the world's top four accounting firms, and even the Australian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong still see the odds, judging by their recent statements.Kudos to Garneau! This linkage between China's power and corporate power is mirrored by the linkage between the Hong Kong protests and the Taiwan protests, and mirrored as well in the support of the American and European Chambers of Commerce for the KMT's pro-China politico-economic goals (noted most recently in my post on FTAs). Ma Ying-jeou and the KMT have deliberately cloaked their pro-annexation structural changes in the language of neo-liberal economic discourse to evoke just this response.
"The present situation is damaging to Hong Kong's international reputation, may harm Hong Kong's international competitiveness, and is creating an uncertain environment that may be detrimental to investment, to job creation and to Hong Kong's prosperity into the future," said Austcham, in a statement on September 29 which echoed Communist Party propaganda almost word-for-word, and incited a heated internal backlash.
Geoff Raby, a former ambassador who represents Australian corporations in Beijing and sits on the board of Andrew Forrest's iron ore company, Fortescue, was empathetic with the protesters he surveyed in central Hong Kong. Indeed, their earnest faces were haunting reminders of those he'd seen a quarter of a century earlier in Tiananmen. And, to him, their hopes are as futile now as they were back then. To contemplate otherwise would not just be wrong, as he put it this week in the AFR, but "ideological". So much so that Canberra should resign itself and allow history to take its inevitable course if the People's Liberation Army is once again sent in. "It will be a time for cool reason, rather than ideological enthusiasm,"according to Raby.
Similarly, when the Sunflower protesters occupied the Taiwanese Yuan, in response to President Ma Ying-jeoh bypassing the island's hard-won democratic institutions to sign a wide-ranging economic integration pact with the mainland, economists at ANZ felt qualified to instruct the island's misguided youth what was good for them. "The protest in Taipei may heighten the anti-Mainland sentiment that is seen in Hong Kong," they said in a research note of March 26. "Turning back such economic integration will only exacerbate the current plight of the middle class, increase youth unemployment, and lead to a loss of thousands of high quality job opportunities."
The mainlandisation of China's peripheries has been accelerating and intensifying under the emperor-like Xi Jinping ever since he assumed the presidency – the third and least important of his titles – in March last year. Raby, and the anonymous author of that Austcham statement, and the China economics team at ANZ bank all assume that China's journey to empire is inexorable, whatever speed bumps lie along the road.
Independent Taipei mayor candidate Ko Wen-je is in the US at the moment. The always excellent Ketagalen Media covered his stop there....
On Wednesday, independent Taipei mayoral candidate Dr. Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) began his US tour, visiting San Francisco Bay Area and meeting with academics, students, industry leaders and Taiwanese American supporters. During a dinner speech Ko gave, he listed Taipei’s largest problem as the high housing prices, and Taiwan’s greatest issue as the social immobility caused by inheritance of wealth and power.That same concern is mirrored in recent surveys of Hong Kong youth (here), who see social mobility as more difficult and the wealth gap in Hong Kong as growing since the handover. All over the world, it's the same cry for social justice in the face of the same issue: authoritarian government with its totalizing identity politics intertwined with corporate power with its totalizing economic dreams. Social identities, after all, are consumption identities...
Also see: Lorand Laskai on LARB connects Hong Kong and Taiwan. Ian Rowen on the Taiwan-HKK links.
[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!