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Taiwan hits out at Hong Kong’s vanishing freedoms, vows to protect its sovereignty

Democratic Taiwan on Friday said freedom had “vanished” in Hong Kong, as concerns were raised internationally over a political crackdown in the city after just 25 years of Chinese rule.

“It’s only been 25 years, and in the past the promise was 50 years of no change,” Taiwan’s premier Su Tseng-chang told journalists as Hong Kong marked the 25th anniversary of the 1997 handover to Chinese rule.

“Freedom and democracy have vanished,” he said, adding that Taiwan, which made a peaceful democratic transition in the 1990s after decades of authoritarian rule under the Kuomintang (KMT), must protect its own way of life in the face of Chinese territorial claims.

“We also know that we must hold fast to Taiwan’s sovereignty, freedom and democracy,” Su said, in a reference to Beijing’s insistence that the island “unify” with China, despite never having been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and despite widespread public opposition to the idea.

“China’s so-called ‘one country, two systems’ has simply not stood up to the test,” Su said of the arrangement touted by Beijing as a success in Hong Kong, and as a possible pathway to a takeover of Taiwan.

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) said CCP rule had led to the end of freedom and democracy in Hong Kong.

In a statement, the council hit out at China’s imposition of a draconian national security law “to govern Hong Kong in a coercive manner, restrict the basic human rights of Hong Kong’s people, and to imprison democracy advocates, silencing the news media and prompting the collapse of civil society.”

It also said recent changes to the city’s electoral system to ensure only “patriots” can hold public office “is even more contrary to goal of universal suffrage and the expectations of Hong Kong citizens.”

“Democracy, human rights, freedom, and rule of law have seriously regressed in Hong Kong, compared with 25 years ago,” the MAC said, dismissing Beijing’s claims that the pro-democracy movement had been instigated by foreign governments.

“Taiwan adheres to a free, democratic and constitutional government, that the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China are not subordinate to each other, that sovereignty cannot be invaded and annexed, and that the future of the Republic of China and Taiwan must be decided by the people of Taiwan,” the statement said.

“Taiwan will continue to safeguard universal values, democratic systems and ways of life, stand side by side with the international community, and firmly defend democracy,” it said.

The statements from Taipei came after CCP leader Xi Jinping used the phrase “one country, two systems” more than 20 times during his speech on Friday marking the 25th anniversary of Chinese rule over Hong Kong, saying China’s tougher political grip on the city in the wake of the 2019 protest movement had enabled it to “rise again from the ashes.”

MAC spokesman Chiu Chui-cheng called on China not to keep deceiving itself about the success of its policies in Hong Kong.

“We solemnly urge [Beijing] to give the people back the democracy, freedoms and human rights that are their due,” Chiu said.

Taiwanese political scientist Wu Rwei-ren said Xi wants to package the 25th anniversary as a kind of second handover.

“The legal basis for one country, two systems was the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration [setting out the terms of the handover],” Wu told RFA.

“By 2014, Xi Jinping’s regime had declared that it wouldn’t recognize [the treaty], saying it was a historical document with no meaning,” he said. “In this way, they redefined one country, two systems as a purely internal concept.”

“The basis for [Hong Kong’s economic and social] achievements was the original political system, which has been destroyed by Xi Jinping,” Wu said.

“He’s now saying that all sources of chaos have been eradicated, Hong Kong has returned to stability, and that everyone can start working hard to improve the economy,” he said. “But the institutional basis for that has been destroyed.”

Wu said even the Taiwanese business community, which has typically been happy to overlook the CCP’s worst failings in the pursuit of greater profits, is now getting out of China and Hong Kong.

“This isn’t about ideology; it’s about the very practical aspects of money,” Wu said. “These people were once more enthusiastic about making money than they were about their own country.”

“They invested huge amounts in China because it was profitable, but now, faced with various deteriorating factors, they are getting out of China fast,” he said.

Meanwhile, invitations were circulating overseas for people to attend a “Funeral for Hong Kong’s Lost Freedoms” in cities across the U.S., including New York, Washington and San Francisco.

Hong Kong protest rallies were also planned in the U.K., Canada and Japan.

A participant at the New York rally who gave only the nickname A Wai said the protest was over the CCP’s failure to deliver on its promises.

“We’re only halfway through the 50 years during which Hong Kong was supposedly not going to change, and everyone can now see through the lie that is one country, two systems,” A Wai told RFA.

“That’s why we chose July 1 to stand up … Hong Kong people are still angry about the crackdowns on protesters on June 12, 2019, July 21, 2019 and Aug. 31, 2019, and we can express all of that on July 1,” he said.

Former 2014 Occupy Central leader Alex Chow said everyone will be wearing black — the color of the 2019 protest movements, but also the color of mourning in some cultures — and that protesters would lay funeral wreaths to signal the death of Hong Kong’s freedoms.

“The situation in Hong Kong and the mainland is full of turmoil and tears,” Chow told RFA. “Behind the facade of prosperity, there is a lot of political in-fighting, and Hong Kong is one of the places where sacrifices are being made.”

“That’s why Hong Kongers overseas who have enough freedom to do so … feel the need to come out,” he said.

In the U.K., protesters plan to march across several cities over the weekend, with a memorial service planned on Piccadilly Circus on Friday for Leung Kin-fai, who committed suicide after stabbing a police officer non-fatally on July 1, 2021.

Former ruling Conservative Party leader Ian Duncan Smith told the House of Commons that he had called a parliamentary debate on Hong Kong to “commemorate the process and the destruction that has taken place since the original signing of the Joint Declaration.”

Shadow foreign affairs minister Fabian Hamilton said the Joint Declaration “is no longer respected by the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities.”

“The UK has a moral duty to uphold the treaty, but has not done nearly enough,” he said, calling on the British government to follow the U.S.’ lead and sanction Hong Kong and Chinese officials linked to the crackdown.

“With the passing of the national security law, the sham so-called election of chief executive John Lee and his promises of further, rather disturbing legislation, we face the reality that Hong Kongers are at the mercy of the long arm of the Chinese state, and have no means to effect real change in their city, or to choose their own leadership, as was always promised,” Hamilton said.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.