Why ‘one country, two systems’ will work in Taiwan

  • Implementing the principle in Hong Kong has been an uphill battle for the past two decades
  • But there are a number of reasons why the principle will work well in Taiwan
PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 January, 2019, 9:39pm
UPDATED : Friday, 04 January, 2019, 10:25pm

President Xi Jinping had barely finished his speech calling for mainland China’s reunification with Taiwan based on the “one country, two systems” formula when critics dismissed it out of hand. Chief among them was, predictably, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.

They say: “It didn’t work in Hong Kong.” “Beijing will never keep its promise.” “The formula is no more than a sleight of hand, a confidence trick.”

Most such critics have their own agenda; many reject reunification. So naturally, no political formula or solution will ever work for them. But for those who are fair-minded or at least willing to give the idea the benefit of the doubt, it’s worth considering the conditions that will make the principle work well in Taiwan and why it has been such an uphill battle implementing it in Hong Kong over the last two decades.

Let’s remember that the formula was originally devised for Taiwan. “The introduction of one country, two systems was originally for taking care of the conditions of Taiwan and protecting the interests and benefits of Taiwan compatriots,” Xi said.

Unlike Hong Kong, Taiwan will be negotiating for itself, rather than having a colonial power and a communist one to do it on its behalf. The British colonialists had an unalterable deadline in 1997; Taiwan will have none.

Taiwan reunification plan: Beijing ‘should apply Hong Kong lessons’

Decades of self-rule in a precarious state caught between the major powers have created a mature political class in Taiwan capable of working both in power and in the opposition. They are professional politicians, not just civil servants and bureaucrats.

Through long years of experience, they are well-versed in cross-strait diplomacy, and understand the art of negotiation and the need for compromise. They will understand that one country, two systems, even after it’s been signed and sealed, requires constant give-and-take, a mechanism that needs adjustment and fine-tuning between the two sides as time changes, rather than something set in stone and dogmatically interpreted.

Geography in the form of a maritime channel separating the two sides will also work in Taiwan’s favour, not just as a military buffer but a natural barrier to invasive mainland tourists and visitors.

Beijing’s relations with Taiwan after unification will probably look more like Brussels to a European Union member state than it is with Hong Kong and Macau after their handovers.

Taiwan is, in short, in much better shape to make one country, two systems work than Hong Kong.