Bloomberg: If Hong Kong Avoids a Bloody Crackdown, It Can Thank Taiwan

Bloomberg

Here’s the good news, summed up in one word: Taiwan.  While the Chinese government sees Hong Kong as a vital commercial and economic center, the assimilation of Taiwan is a far bigger priority. The Taiwanese, who are surely watching events on a minute-to-minute basis, tend to see their future reflected in how events unfold in Hong Kong. With a population of nearly 25 million generating a top-25 global economy, Taiwan is simply a much larger prize for China than Hong Kong.

Taiwan’s geographic position, guarding the northern approaches to the South China Sea, is crucial for China’s long-term plan to control that body of water; some 80 percent of global trade passes atop it, and billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas lie below. And in terms of symbolism, while the return of Hong Kong from a faded British Empire was a great triumph for Beijing, reining in the “renegade province” to which the defeated nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-shek fled in 1949 would be incomparably more significant.

Given all this, China will probably avoid a heavy-handed troop movement into Hong Kong for as long as possible, knowing it would create an even stronger independence movement in Taiwan. The politics of the island state tend to swing between two parties: the Democratic Progressives, who favor continued independent status; and the Kuomintang, which sees a gradual path of engagement and perhaps eventually accepting the “one state, two systems” approach. The former holds power now, but leaders in Beijing would love to see a change of government in next year’s presidential elections, and understand that the events in Hong Kong may have a big effect.

Still, like all authoritarian regimes, China seeks above all to maintain a sense of control throughout society as the basis of its governance.

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