Read: Why I won’t give up my dream for Hong Kong
Even at the highest levels, Taiwan has helped derail the extradition bill, which would enable Hong Kong to extradite criminal suspects to China, Taiwan, or the former Portuguese colony of Macau.
The legislation was initially proposed after the February 2018 murder of a Hong Kong woman, Poon Hiu-wing, by her boyfriend, Chan Tong-kai, also a Hong Kong resident, while the couple were on vacation in Taiwan. Chan fled back to Hong Kong and has not been prosecuted, but Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, argued that an extradition bill would enable his transfer to Taiwan so that he would be subject to its courts. Taiwan’s government, however, said that it would not prosecute him even if the bill was passed, giving succor to critics who see the bill as a Trojan horse that would facilitate the disappearance of anyone Beijing wished.
Protesters finally won a small, mostly symbolic victory after weeks of rallies, including a march on June 9 that drew, according to organizers, a million peaceful demonstrators. Lam initially said she would not bow to the opposition, but by the following week, after police used tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets on largely peaceful protesters, she announced she would temporarily suspend, but not withdraw, the bill. That wasn’t enough for Hong Kongers demanding a complete withdrawal, however, and days later, an even bigger protest march took place, which, according to organizers, involved 2 million participants.
Because of a weighted system that allows half of Hong Kong’s 70-member legislature to be selected by pro-China business interests, with the other half elected by residents, legislators in favor of greater democratic freedoms are in the minority. Those in the minority fighting for greater freedoms for Hong Kong see a kindred spirit in Taiwan. “Hong Kongers feel that we are not alone in our fight against this Goliath,” Ray Chan, a pro-democracy lawmaker in Hong Kong, told me. “Hong Kong and Taiwan are both at the front line of the global fight to stop Beijing’s creeping authoritarianism and control. Our cooperation and mutual support will be key to defending our freedom.”
The implications of the relationship between Hong Kong and Taiwan stretch beyond just the extradition bill and the prospects for democracy in Hong Kong. The majority of Taiwanese are already opposed to unification with China, but if Beijing cannot be seen to implement the “one country, two systems” framework in an even-handed manner in Hong Kong, what prospect does it have of being putting in place here, argue Taiwanese critics of China. “We are an example for Taiwan that if they accept ‘one country, two systems’ from China, this will probably happen to them,” Ho, the musician, said in an interview.
Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s president, opposes unification with China, but troublingly for the Communist Party, events in Hong Kong have even forced prominent members of the Beijing-friendly opposition party, the Kuomintang, to distance themselves from their giant neighbor. Han Kuo-yu, China’s favored candidate in this month’s primary to become the Kuomintang challenger to Tsai in elections next year, said that if he’s elected, the Hong Kong model would come to Taiwan “over my dead body.” “The political elite in Taiwan are watching the events in Hong Kong closely,” said Lauren Dickey, a China analyst at CNA, an Arlington, Virginia–based research firm.