Kong clash stirs the pot for
Taiwan By Jens Kastner
TAIPEI - The Taiwanese, who do not eat on
subway trains, have been taking note of recent
developments in Hong Kong. Peking University
professor Kong Qingdong infamously branded the
city's residents as "dogs" for telling off Chinese
tourists for eating on the Hong Kong MTR, causing
the insulted to publish newspaper ads likening
mainland Chinese to "locusts" in retaliation. As
Beijing and Taipei are rapidly closing ranks, and
the number of mainland
Chinese visiting the island
grows, such trouble is bound to happen in Taiwan.
Governments on both sides are on guard, knowing
that political ramifications could be an unwelcome
In Hong Kong, accumulated
public resentment against mainland visitors has
reached an explosive level. Close to 25 million of
them are said to set foot in the former British
colony - now China's Special Administrative Region
(SAR) - annually, bringing in tremendous revenue
but also causing significant social friction. In
the eyes of many Hongkongers, while the rich among
the mainlanders show off their wealth in a
repulsive manner, it's the lower classes who
exploit Hong Kong's social welfare system - and
both groups generally lack sophistication.
With some 2 million Chinese tourists to
Taiwan last year, arrival numbers pale in
comparison with Hong Kong. The easing of
restrictions is in the making, and the stereotypes
harbored in Hong Kong are arguably also rampant on
the island. How serious the Beijing-friendly
Kuomintang (KMT) government under President Ma
Ying-jeou takes such social sentiments became
apparent in the run-up to the recent presidential
and legislative elections. Asia Times Online has
been told by insiders in Taipei that in order to
prevent the behavior of Chinese visitors
irritating Taiwanese voters to the disadvantage of
the KMT, Beijing and Taipei deliberately reduced
the number of Chinese tourists during the
electoral run-up. The fact that in the weeks
before the elections the arrivals of mainland
tourists dropped by half to about 2,000 per day
supports this notion. Arrivals of official Chinese
delegations were scaled back temporarily for the
same reasons, as indirectly confirmed by the
Presidential Office in Taipei.
havoc in midst all this political cautiousness,
Kong Qingdong, a known new leftist advocating for
China to return to some sort of socialism, did not
only take on the city's residents in his rants.
Giving the Taiwanese a foretaste on how it is
being on the receiving end of cocky nationalist
verbal attacks, in the same breath, Kong also
mocked Taiwan's democratic system.
Taiwanese elections were "fake-democracy," akin to
a TV drama, and the total votes President Ma won
for his re-election was not even "half the
population of Beijing", Kong was quoted as saying.
In an interview, Hsu Yu-fang, a political
commentator and associate professor at National
Dong Hwa University's Department of Sinophone
Literatures, explained the thoughts of most
Taiwanese when hearing the related news coming out
of China's SAR of late. In the eyes of Hsu, the
controversy certainly does not help Beijing in its
quest to achieve cross-strait unification.
"The Hong Kong clash is both a civic as
well as a systematic one. Although China became
rich, due to a long-term neglect of civic
education, most Chinese aren't very law-abiding
and also lack civic-mindedness. This is a very
different matter in Hong Kong, which was ruled by
Britain for a long time."
remarks reportedly made in private by Taiwanese
officials, according to which mainlanders
culturally have more in common with the Taiwanese
than with the Hongkongers so that the mainlanders
and Taiwanese could be more tolerant toward each
other's misbehaviors. He acknowledged nonetheless
that in terms of law-abidance and
civic-mindedness, there is still some room for
improvement amongst his fellow countrymen.
"But compared with the Chinese, the
Taiwanese are doubtlessly much better. This
becomes evident when observing how differently
mainlanders and Taiwanese wait in line."
He then singled out the aspect of the Hong
Kong problem that makes the Taiwanese in
particular prick up their ears. According to Hsu,
it's there for all to see what's in store for
Taiwan after unification.
mainland women overwhelm Hong Kong's hospitals to
deliver babies [about 43,000 last year] because of
the better social and medical system. If one day
Taiwan becomes a Special Administrative Region of
China, of course it will be the same here."
Hsu predicted that it would actually be
even worse as Taiwan's social and medical system
is better than Hong Kong's and went on detailing a
scenario that is immensely disturbing to the
"Taiwan has National
Health Insurance (NHI), China hasn't; medical
costs there are very high, and mainland doctors
look down on poor people. mainlanders will want to
enjoy Taiwan's cheap NHI, and pregnant women will
come in order to pocket advantages such as
12-years compulsory education for their offspring"
, he said.
The Chinese leadership has all
along used Hong Kong as a model to make
unification palatable to the Taiwanese. The SAR's
continuing economic success after the handover
from Britain in 1997, in combination with
Beijing's relative restraint in interfering in the
city's internal affairs, was aimed to make the
"one country two systems" idea as proposed by Deng
Xiaoping an attractive option to the Taiwanese.
According to "one country two systems" , there is
only one China, but Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan
would be allowed to retain their own political
system and run their own affairs - social, legal,
economic and financial, etc.
how useful a billboard Hong Kong remains today in
terms of convincing the Taiwanese was taken on by
Steve Tsang, director of the University of
Nottingham's China Policy Institute. Tsang himself
has a Hong Kong background.
to think Hong Kong set a great example for
enticing Taiwan to rejoin or join Mother China.
There is less confidence that this would work now,
but the basic idea that the 'one country, two
systems' model as applied to Hong Kong can be
modified to work for Taiwan remains."
According to Tsang, that Beijing has
Taiwan in mind is certainly a factor that
restrains the Chinese Central Government when
dealing with Hong Kong. "But there is next to no
market in Taiwan for the 'one country two systems'
Tsang furthermore brought
into account that as the Taiwanese by and large do
not take the Hong Kong case as a model for them,
the souring of relations between Hongkongers and
mainland Chinese will only have a limited impact
on cross-strait relations in the short term.
"However, in the longer term, seeing Hong
Kong being bullied by the mainland, certainly
makes the prospect of unification with China
repulsive to Taiwanese," he said.
emphasized that the conditions that have been
generating the intense feelings among Hongkongers
do not at the moment exist in Taiwan.
"It's about scale and intensity; the sheer
number of mainland Chinese living in and visiting
Hong Kong and the percentage of them to the local
population is incomparably higher than in Taiwan.
Also, Hong Kong allows numerous mainland Chinese
to gain residence there, purchase expensive
properties and, above all, use the health services
to give birth and thus gain Hong Kong citizenship.
But none of these welfare entitlements apply to
When taking mainlanders'
different attitudes towards Hong Kong and Taiwan
into account, it becomes even less likely that
clashes as intense as the ongoing one will occur
on the island any time soon, according to Tsang.
He explained that mainland Chinese now feel that
they are subsidizing Hong Kong and no longer
accept that they are in any way inferior to Hong
Kong people, and that many mainlanders see
Hongkongers as unjustifiably arrogant and rude.
"The Taiwanese-mainlander relationship has
not yet reached this point. But problems can
certainly happen, and the chance of them happening
grows with increasing intensity of economic
integration and population flow," Tsang concluded.
Jens Kastner is a Taipei-based
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