The Debate

Beijing Should Let Hong Kong ‘Go Democratic First’

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The Debate

Beijing Should Let Hong Kong ‘Go Democratic First’

China could do well to follow Deng Xiaoping’s advice.

During his National Day address, Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou reiterated his strong support for the Hong Kong people’s appeal to universal suffrage when electing their chief executive in 2017.

Ma adapted Deng Xiaoping’s famous decision of “letting some people get rich first” – by which Deng urged his communist officials to be bold enough to welcome market-oriented reforms in the early 1990s – and suggested that his mainland counterpart President Xi Jinping show more tolerance toward Hong Kong by following Deng’s method: “Let some people go democratic first.” We hope Beijing takes Ma’s goodwill seriously.

If mainland authorities are able to respond positively to the protesters, they can not only fulfill commitments made 17 years ago, but also realize a win-win scenario for Hong Kong and the mainland. It matters for Taipei too, for it would be strongly welcomed by the people of Taiwan. Cross-Strait relations would be significantly enhanced in this scenario.

Ma called for democratic reforms on the other side of the Taiwan Strait in his speech, as he believes now is the most appropriate time for mainland China to move toward constitutional democracy.

Some observers might be surprised by Ma’s “unfriendly” remarks toward Beijing, but they were consistent with his previous stance on issues of democracy in Mainland China. Over the past 25 years Ma has made similar remarks every year, urging mainland authorities to redress the June fourth anniversary of Tiananmen Square, better treat political dissidents, and pursue liberal democracy after its people became rich. He was attempting to do the same for Hong Kong this time.

Some might even question Ma’s inconsistency regarding Taiwan’s own domestic student-led movement that occupied the legislature earlier in March. This is a misunderstanding, too. Ma supports peaceful and rational appeals, but opposes violent behavior in occupying government premises, whether in Taiwan or Hong Kong. He reiterated support for “universal suffrage,” not “Occupy Central,” never mentioning the latter term in his speeches.

Moreover, Beijing has long refused to copy Western-style democracy. Ma is not against this. He also believes that there is no cookie-cutter formula for democratic development, and it is not easy to transplant a constitutional system. This is why he insisted that Taiwan would be happy to share its experience in democratization, and join the mainland in seeking out the best way forward for political and economic reforms in the future.

Unfortunately, Fan Liqing, the spokeswoman of the mainland’s Taiwan Affairs Office, replied negatively twice. She said Beijing was “firmly opposed to remarks on China’s political system and Hong Kong’s political reforms.” We believe this is an overreaction.

It shows that Beijing has ignored Ma’s goodwill and the high expectations of the Taiwanese people. Additionally, Beijing underestimated the determination of the Hong Kong people to be democratic. This worries us. We are afraid that Beijing could lose its chance and fail to help Hong Kong authorities reach a consensus with angry protesters.

The tension in Hong Kong is still escalating. We once again call for a peaceful resolution, and hope sincerely that Beijing will adopt Taiwan’s suggestion of goodwill to let Hong Kong “go democratic first.”

Dr. Hong-cheng Gui is the Director of the Mainland Affairs Department and Dr. Charles I-hsin Chen is the Spokesperson of the ruling Kuomintang in the Republic of China (Taiwan).