The pro-Beijing extremist groups that threatened visiting activists at the weekend were broadcasting their message back to Hong Kong rather than to Taiwanese society.
“In the end they’ll find themselves broken and bleeding,” said An Fengshan, spokesperson of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), during a Dec. 28 press conference in response to a question about a Jan. 7-8 forum in Taipei with Taiwan’s New Power Party (NPP) and several Hong Kong legislators and activists, including Demosistō’s Nathan Law Kwun-chong and Joshua Wong, who gained global attention during the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement.
Whether An’s answer was meant as a prediction or a threat, his words turned out to be more than mere bluster. The NPP’s guests from Hong Kong were attacked by pro-China extremists upon arrival at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport on Friday night and again Sunday night after their return to Hong Kong following the conclusion of the forum.
Demonstrators massed not just at the airport, but at the forum venue itself in Taipei, where several hundred alleged gangsters and ideological allies, such as the Concentric Patriot Association of the ROC, and the China Unification Promotion Party, surrounded the building entrance and shouted Taiwanese-accented Cantonese curses including “Fuck your mother” and “Death to your entire family,” necessitating a police cordon and escort for the invited participants. Said Sunflower Movement leader Lin Fei-fan, who had picked up the guests at the airport and made a closing statement at the forum, “It’s nice to cooperate with the police this time.”
During the Sunday morning session, NPP party chairman and legislator Huang Kuo-chang, a legal scholar who, like Lin, rose to national prominence during the Sunflower Movement, suggested that the attacks within Taiwan were likely intended less for Taiwanese audiences, who are all-too-familiar with the antics of the CPAROC, who regularly demonstrate against Falun Gong practitioners outside Taipei 101 and at other venues, but were instead aimed at pro-Beijing media outlets in Hong Kong. Indeed, several pro-Beijing outlets dutifully reported that the Taiwanese public demonstrated against Hong Kong “independence activists,” and ignored the fact that the CPAROC is generally despised by Taiwanese people (for just one small but telling example — on my way out of the building on Saturday, I saw a mother clutching her young daughter and exclaiming, “These people are so rude!” as she steered away to safety.)
the attacks within Taiwan were likely intended less for Taiwanese audiences, who are all-too-familiar with the antics of the CPAROC, who regularly demonstrate against Falun Gong practitioners outside Taipei 101 and at other venues, but were instead aimed at pro-Beijing media outlets in Hong Kong.
Nathan Law and his aides, all of them under 25 years of age, are no strangers to gangster-driven shows of force — they and other demonstrators in the 2014 Umbrella Movement-occupation zones were plagued by paid thugs, particularly in Mong Kok, but this was their first time to be attacked within Taiwan. Law also contended over the weekend with false quotes on fake online news outlets which claimed he said he would never come back to Taiwan. Law quickly posted a clarification on his public Facebook page, where he thanked the NPP for the invitation, and said he appreciated the warmth of the Taiwanese people, and looked forward to returning for more exchanges. He later also held a press conference in Hong Kong and declared that he remained unshaken by the attacks, which he decried as “uncivilized.”
With media interest far higher than it would have been otherwise, a substantial portion of both the Saturday and Sunday sessions was spent answering questions about the attacks. Thus, through their campaign of chaos, the CPAROC and their collaborators turned what would otherwise have been a politely uneventful and frankly often-boring forum into a media circus, earning free publicity for the NPP and returning Lin Fei-fan, a forum participant but not an NPP member, to the spotlight. In a sense, the NPP, a post-Sunflower party led by high-profile activists now busy building support for the 2018 local elections by positioning itself as both farther left and more explicitly pro-independence than the DPP, couldn’t have asked for a greater gift from the gangsters. While the guests from Hong Kong bore the unfortunate brunt of it, they still seem eager to return to Taiwan for more talks. In turn, they said they would welcome NPP and other Taiwanese visitors, were they permitted to enter (Huang Kuo-chang, Lin Fei-fan and others had been turned away from Hong Kong on their last attempt).
Pro-China ideologues are passing up a cynical opportunity to spin these burgeoning civil society connections into a hegemonic narrative that treats Hong Kong and Taiwan as part of a cultural or linguistic “Greater China” rather than as atomized polities. Such a narrative could ultimately play to Beijing’s favor, or even ironically strengthen its more radical opposition. Indeed, Joshua Wong and Nathan Law’s positions are fairly moderate by the standards of many post-Umbrella Movement “localist” activists, who have criticized them for not explicitly calling for Hong Kong independence.
Beijing and its proxies’ painting of cautious young politicians who have never publicly promoted Hong Kong independence, but rather espouse a far milder line of “self-determination,” is likely to further radicalize Taiwanese and Hong Kong activists and sympathetic members of the public. Hsu Yong-ming, NPP convenor and party list legislator, echoed this line during the forum, saying, “I’m a little disappointed that Joshua Wong didn’t advocate Hong Kong independence. I thought we’d do a little more here.” Even if Hsu lamented that little was done explicitly in the public forum itself, or in the participants’ light socializing over the weekend — including riding public bicycles around Taipei — pro-China forces helped them get a lot more attention than they could have planned.
Soon after Law was attacked at Hong Kong airport, 25 pro-democracy lawmakers released a statement demanding the police “immediately investigate the group’s violent crimes and bring the culprits to justice.” Between the light treatment that the CPAROC has received in Taiwan, Hong Kong’s increasingly compromised legal climate, and the murky ties between China’s United Front organizations and organized crime, this request is unlikely to be fulfilled anytime soon. But the show will go on, and the next formal round of Hong Kong and Taiwan political party meetings is bound to pull even higher ratings. Let’s hope no one gets any more bruised or bloody in the process.