The former Taiwanese premier under president Ma Ying-jeou appears to have slipped through the firewall that has been erected around Hong Kong. But read the fine print.
With relations between Taiwan and China deteriorating in recent years, Hong Kong immigration authorities, ostensibly acting on orders from the central government in Beijing, have denied entry to a growing number of Taiwanese activists, officials, and democracy activists into the troubled former British colony. More rigid still have been immigration controls on individuals wishing to give lectures about democracy in Hong Kong.
But not so for Jiang Yi-huah, the former premier of Taiwan, who is scheduled to give a talk on Feb. 16 at City University of Hong Kong, College of Business, titled — rather extraordinarily, given the current mood in the territory — “The Successes and Failures of Taiwanese Democracy and Its Meaning.”
One could certainly ask whether Jiang slipped through the cracks in the Chinese firewall. Or perhaps his former title as premier in a Kuomintang (KMT) administration gives him special permission to do what others can no longer do. But no, China does not make special allowances, not when it comes to democracy, and certainly not at a time when its propagandists are hard at work trying to discredit Western liberal democracy and promote the supposed superiority of Marxism-Leninism. And here, in fact, lies the key to Mr. Jiang’s ability to speak about Taiwan’s democracy in Hong Kong; look at the description of the event, and how well it fits Beijing’s to push its own model of governance as an alternative to Western liberal democracy.
“Taiwan is the only democracy in the Chinese world,” the event description begins. “In the process of democratization, Taiwan successfully realizes the democratic transition of an authoritarian regime, fair elections and peaceful change of powers, and the formation of a viable civil society, for which it is highly accredited [sic] by the international community.”
So far, so good. But then comes the red flag.
“Nevertheless, Taiwanese democracy is also tainted by a serious divide of national identity, relentless partisan politics, disfunction of government, disrespect of the law, and notorious manipulation of mass media. The shortcomings of Taiwanese democracy is [sic] so appalling that more and more people become suspicious of the desirability of democracy in general, and the feasibility of democracy for the Chinese people in particular.”
Here one wonders whether the script was written by Jiang, a Yale graduate who wrote his doctoral thesis on Hannah Arendt, or one of the chief propagandists in Beijing. Either way, the text fits hand in glove with ongoing efforts by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to discredit democracy in Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, and the world in general, while papering over the much greater dysfunctions that plague communist rule back in China. By agreeing to have his name associated with such language (assuming he has seen it), the former premier not only casts aspersions on the democratic accomplishments of the Taiwanese — who remain overwhelmingly committed to their political system, flaws notwithstanding — he furthermore risks becoming a pawn in Chinese propaganda, a voice arguing against a form of governance that is anathema to the CCP and that should remain an option for the people of Hong Kong and China.
“The story of Taiwanese democracy will not only affect China’s strategic choice of political reform in the future, but also bear significantly on the uncertain prospect of democracy in Hong Kong,” the text concludes. “It is therefore something worthy of attention and reflection among people who care the future of the Chinese world.”
If, as the text suggests, democracy in Taiwan has become so appalling that people are more and more suspicious of its desirability, then the “attention and reflection among people who care the future of the Chinese world” is unnecessary, as the outcome has already been determined: democracy is undesirable and therefore the Chinese world should not seek it for itself.
Music to the CCP’s ears, isn’t it?