The Chinese government’s deepening paranoia about the protests in Hong Kong, which Beijing blames on meddling by outside powers (read: the U.S.), is unlikely to be relieved by the appearance of strengthening ties between Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and Taiwan, which has enjoyed full (if frequently rowdy) democratic self-government since 1992. China already views Taiwan with deep suspicion and even outright hostility, correctly fearing that it holds out an example of functional democracy to mainland Chinese; the fact that Taiwan is encouraging the Hong Kong protest movement — which they regard as a thinly disguised move towards demanding full independence — and vice versa could only send President Xi Jinping and the rest of the Politburo around the bend. And indeed this is exactly what’s happening, according to Cato scholar Ted Galen Carpenter, who notes China’s mounting fury in an analysis for The American Conservative.
- The Taiwanese have made no secret of their support for the Hong Kong protesters, Carpenter notes, with President Tsai Ing-wen saying that the crackdown on the protests should serve as a reminder of what Taiwan would experience under Chinese rule. Essentially the more China cracks down in Hong Kong, the more unlikely eventual reunification with Taiwan becomes — something even the Chinese leadership has to admit, at least in private.
- The Hong Kong protesters are openly courting Taiwan too, with pro-democracy leader Joshua Wong stating: “We hope that before Communist China’s National Day on Oct. 1, our friends in Taiwan can express their support for Hong Kong through street protests.”
- In a visit to Taipei to meet with Taiwanese pro-independence politicians, itself a highly provocative act, Wong also called on Taiwan to grant political asylum to Hong Kong protesters in the event they flee Chinese repression.
- Worse still, anger over the crackdown in Hong Kong is forcing even formerly pro-Beijing Taiwanese politicians from the Kuomintang Party to back away from their previous commitments to improving cross-strait relations, suggesting that China may lose the last vestiges of support among the Taiwanese elite.
- Carpenter warns, however, that Xi Jinping cannot accept two political defeats in China’s near abroad, raising the possibility of an escalation in repressive measures, which would in turn trigger a crisis between China and the U.S. Thus Carpenter warns that America must proceed very carefully: while it is tempting to support the pro-democracy protesters, doing so raises the chances of a much broader conflict.