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Why Beijing feels the need to kill a ‘chicken’ when it comes to talk of independence in Hong Kong and Taiwan

Lessons for all in Beijing’s approach to Taiwan and Hong Kong; unity is the only acceptable way forward

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 April, 2018, 3:24pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 April, 2018, 9:41pm

On Friday, Qiao Xiaoyang, a retired former top official who had been in charge of the National People’s Congress Basic Law committee, was in town giving a talk to more than 200 senior officials on the country’s just-amended constitution. 

Reporters waiting anxiously outside the Tamar government headquarters had one shared question in mind: would Qiao again push the city to introduce its long-awaited national security legislation? 

Interestingly, he did not, but he made Beijing’s stance clear enough. Pro-independence calls should not be considered freedom of expression, and he reminded all the participants that while they were serving Hong Kong, they were also serving the country. 

Qiao’s comments were not really anything new, but put into context, Beijing’s zero tolerance for any independence attempt can be seen as part of President Xi Jinping’s Chinese dream. 

Since taking power more than five years ago, Xi has been promoting the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” dream. But, what does that really mean?

Here is a clue. In his closing speech at the annual March sessions of the country’s top legislature, Xi said history told China “it’s impossible for a divided and fractured nation to develop and to advance”. It is widely believed Taiwan must be part of the Chinese dream; it is only a matter of how, and when.

Hong Kong should support Communist Party and not cross ‘legal line’ to oppose socialism, Qiao Xiaoyang says

One episode that has not received much attention in Hong Kong is Beijing’s top department dealing with Taiwan affairs making it official that pro-independence Taiwanese artists should be banned from the mainland market. 

This led to the indefinite delay of an award-winning Taiwanese film being released on the mainland, since one of its main actors is considered to be pro-Taiwan independence. 

This is not the first time Beijing has censored performances by Taiwanese artists with pro-independence stands, but a directive from the State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office is still quite a move. 

It means Beijing no longer sees the need for any subtlety in its aim to deter independence sentiment on the island, and that is without the recent military drills in the Taiwan Strait. 

On the other hand, Beijing is taking a softer approach when it comes to non-sovereignty matters. 

One latest move is a hiring programme, specifically designed for Taiwan students studying on the mainland, at one of the biggest state banks. Bank of China branches in Shanghai and other cities are actively reaching out to the students with attractive packages.

Taipei has immediately issued a warning that the bank belongs to the type of mainland institutions its citizens are not allowed to join, and anyone taking up the offer needs to bear possible legal consequences.

The last thing Beijing wants to see is Hong Kong activists reaching out to those in Taiwan 

If it takes time for Beijing and Taipei to work out a way to maintain smooth cross-strait relations before any talk of reunification can be feasible, then Beijing’s approach towards Hong Kong after 20 years of post-handover sovereignty has definitely become much more direct. 

So, when Qiao stressed that independence talk hurt the feelings of the Chinese people, University of Hong Kong law professor Benny Tai Yiu-ting may have been right in comparing himself to the chicken in an old Chinese saying. Tai believes Beijing wants to ‘kill’ him to serve as a warning to the ‘monkeys’ of Hong Kong and Taiwan, after the controversial remarks he made in Taipei about self-determination for Hong Kong.

Nothing hardline about urging respect for China’s socialist system, says adviser to Hong Kong leader after Qiao Xiaoyang’s comments

Tai, a co-leader of the 2014 Occupy movement, could be right, because what worries Beijing more is his Taiwan connection, rather than his comments, which he has defended as academic discourse. 

The last thing Beijing wants to see is Hong Kong activists reaching out to those in Taiwan to form a partnership. 

A reality for Hong Kong is this: the belief that a “fractured” country cannot progress is the prevailing one across the border.