My Take

Beijing must attempt to woo back youth in Hong Kong and Taiwan

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 October, 2015, 1:10am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 October, 2015, 1:10am

The Chinese nation is undergoing an inter-generational struggle. If Beijing thinks Hong Kong's politically active youths are a nuisance, Taiwan's young are a positive threat.

A good deal of what's happening in Taiwan today, but especially with the upcoming presidential election, may be traced back to the youth-led Sunflower movement, which was the mirror image of our own Occupy protests.

The main difference, though, is that the Sunflower activists succeeded where ours almost completely failed. Thanks to their opposition, the Cross-Strait Agreement on Trade in Services is languishing unratified in Taiwan's legislature.

The wider rejection of closer ties with the mainland by Taiwan's student leaders and their allied civil groups also help to define the election platform of the Democratic Progressive Party, which looks set to propel its candidate, Tsai Ing-wen, to the top job. It also helps to explain the disarray within the Kuomintang.

KMT powerbrokers realise, all too late in the game, that Hung Hsiu-chu is virtually unelectable because of her "one China" stance, which dates back to KMT founder Chiang Kai-shek but is now an electoral poison pill.

Essentially, the ambiguous status quo of Taiwan within China is now the position towards which both rival parties are moving. Alas, the DPP is perfectly articulated about the ambiguous status quo; the KMT has a lot to explain what it means by the ambiguous "one China".

The economic reasons for the rejectionism of Taiwan's and Hong Kong's youths towards greater integration with the mainland are almost exactly the same. Cross-strait trade since the 1980s mostly benefited Taiwan's big businesses just as our own tycoon-dominated business sector has enjoyed preferential treatment.

Poor job prospects, low wages and unaffordable homes are some of the same problems that haunt young people in both places, while widening income and social inequalities have created widespread discontent.

Beijing's policy of integration has paradoxically disenfranchised a whole generation in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Beijing and its local allies see today's youths as radicalised. But unless Beijing works to woo them back, China's dream of peaceful unification will remain a pipedream.