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It's the system, stupid!
Some 16,000 people marched yesterday in support of Hong Kong's controversial Article 23 of the Basic Law under the auspices of which the territory's government is introducing anti-subversion legislation. Beijing has, of course, never had much trouble mobilizing its rent-a-mobs in Hong Kong and yesterday's little display was a riposte to the 60,000 who marched a week earlier protesting against the new legislation.
The matter has received quite a lot of comment in Taiwan in the past week, most of it negative. The Mainland Affairs Council is worried that the new legislation will impede ties, tenuous as they are, between Hong Kong and Taiwan, while human rights activists have been urging Taiwanese to add their voice to the wave of international concern that surrounds what is widely seen as potentially a huge blow to Hong Kong's residual freedoms, seemingly in conflict with the freedom of speech promised to Hong Kong's people as part of the "one country, two systems" deal.
It is a coincidence, and one that we would have expected the blue camp, naturally concerned about anything that interferes with its covert cooperation and financing from Beijing, to have seized upon with glee, that Taiwan is also reviewing legislation not hugely different from that being drafted by Hong Kong. First there is a bill about the publication of state secrets. This is the result of the revelations orchestrated by subsequently disgraced PFP Legislator Diane Lee, of secret diplomatic slush funds from the files stolen by renegade National Security Bureau bookkeeper Liu Kuan-chun. Second, there is a bill on the funding of political parties under which politicians, or those intending to run for public office, would be banned from accepting campaign funding from certain groups or individuals including most notably people and organizations from China, Hong Kong and Macau.
Probably sooner rather than later we can expect the pro-China media and Beijing's blue-camp followers to point out the similarity between Hong Kong legislation that reduces the media's right of free speech and the involvement in Hong Kong affairs of overseas political organizations or individuals and Taiwan legislation that, well, reduces the media's right of free speech and the involvement in Taiwan affairs of overseas political organizations or individuals. It ill becomes Taiwan's green camp liberals, they will say, to condemn the behavior of Beijing's puppet government in Hong Kong on the one hand while imitating it themselves on the other.
Expecting this as we do, we may as well launch a pre-emptive attack on this line of reasoning, so here we go. Taiwan's situation differs from that of Hong Kong in precisely this manner -- that if the government is seen by the people of Taiwan to be using its powers in a heavy-handed manner, those people have the right to boot that government out of office. The people of Hong Kong do not have that right. Taiwan's government is answerable to the people of Taiwan. Hong Kong's government is answerable to fewer than a dozen men in Beijing. And that's it, really. You don't have to compare the pieces of legislation looking for ways in which one version is more or less restrictive than another. All you have to know is that the Taiwan legislation is made within a political system where the governed can, if they wish, force change upon those who govern them. The Hong Kong legislation isn't. As Bill Clinton might have said: "It's the system, stupid!"
*Paul Lin is a columnist based in New York.
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