Mainland lowering its mask of friendship

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 March, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 March, 1996, 12:00am

Optimists in Hong Kong who believe in China's promise of 'one country, two systems' hinge their faith on Beijing's desire to use Hong Kong as a showcase to Taiwan to lure the 21 million Taiwanese to peaceful reunification.

But those illusions must have been badly shattered by the military aggression China has levelled at Taiwan in the run-up to the island's maiden presidential election on Saturday.

Before Hong Kong even has a chance to demonstrate how promising the 'one country, two systems' formula is, we are instead learning our own lesson from the horrific experience of the Taiwanese struggling to survive daily military threats.

The message could not be clearer.

Behind that friendly mask is the face of a ferocious aggressor who couldn't care less about the well-being of millions of his compatriots.

Beijing obviously believes that it has a good cause to start this 'war of liberation'.

But the many Chinese living in Hong Kong and Taiwan certainly disagree with the need for the latest wave of military exercises.

Instead of promoting the cause of peaceful reunification, the 'liberation' plan only serves to alienate the Beijing leadership from the rest of the Chinese race.

For Hong Kong people, the rhetoric from Beijing, not ruling out the use of force to take over Hong Kong if the British misbehave - heard so often before and after the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984 - seems not so much an empty threat.

To Hong Kong and Taiwan people, here is a government which has no regard for people's choice, for freedom of speech and for peaceful order in the region.

Over the past two weeks, these people have heard how journalists were casually arrested for allegedly trying to gather military information of a secretive nature.

They saw how military manoeuvres and psychological warfare have been stepped up to intimidate the Taiwan public so that they will cast the 'right' vote in the coming election.

They heard how generals of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) condemned Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui for leading their Taiwan compatriots to destruction and vowed that the Chinese military would smash their enemies into pieces.

They also read how junior Chinese officials threatened American officials, saying they would rain nuclear bombs on Los Angeles if the United States dared defend Taiwan.

These kinds of threats and intimidation are the last thing the people of Hong Kong and Taiwan should expect from a civilised administration.

How can such action bolster confidence and faith in the communities here and across the Taiwan Strait? Beijing may justify its actions by claiming it is a victim of Taiwan's expanding separatist movement and the latest military manoeuvres are no more than a legitimate response to Mr Lee's ambition to turn Taiwan into an independent state.

But the people of Hong Kong and Taiwan certainly believe there are better ways to relay Beijing's message than by using military threats and force.

What China is doing is driving the Taiwanese much closer to Lee Teng-hui and provoking more of those who didn't believe in the independence of Taiwan as a credible cause for the island's future to think about the attractions of such a movement.

Undoubtedly, independence is still a very remote possibility and few people believe it will happen. But if China's action helps this movement gather momentum, it only makes the goal of peaceful reunification harder to achieve.