Why wiping out Hong Kong’s opposition may have cost China a whole generation in

But his story could have been very different if he lived in Hong Kong, where student activists once brought the financial hub to a standstill as they took to the streets to demand democracy and freedoms.

“If I were in Hong Kong, I think I’ll probably be in jail,” said Lin, the 33-year-old deputy secretary-general of Taiwan’s governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

The recent events in Hong Kong have given Lin greater determination to defend Taiwan’s sovereignty, he said — and he is not alone.

As authorities in Hong Kong arrested pro-democracy supporters, including opposition politicians and newspaper editors, a growing number of people in Taiwan have reflected upon the island’s future relationship with mainland China.
Since the Hong Kong protests broke out in 2019, more than 32% of respondents in Taiwan preferred a move toward formal “independence” — twice as many as in 2018 — according to a survey by Taiwan’s National Chengchi University in June.

Fewer than 8% of respondents favored “unification” with mainland China, while most wanted to maintain the status quo — an arrangement by which Taiwan remains self-ruled, without an official declaration of independence.

Samuel Li, a student in the city of Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan said Beijing’s crackdown on Hong Kong had escalated his distrust of the Communist regime.

“It reinforced my thoughts on the Chinese government in (that) they don’t really do what they say. They always break their promises,” he said. “I really wish that Taiwan could remain as it is today.”

Escalating tensions

Mainland China and Taiwan have been governed separately since the end of the Chinese civil war more than 70 years ago, when the defeated Nationalists retreated to the island.

Taiwan is now a flourishing multi-party democracy but the mainland’s ruling Chinese Communist Party continues to view the island as an inseparable part of its territory — despite having never controlled it.

Today, relations between Taipei and Beijing are at their lowest point in decades. In October, China’s military sent a record number of warplanes into the air around Taiwan while Chinese diplomats and state-run media warned of a possible invasion unless the island toes Beijing’s line.

But it hasn’t always been this way. In fact, for much of the past 30 years, the possibility of conflict had seemed remote. Beginning in the early 1990s, many Taiwanese firms moved manufacturing operations to the mainland, where labor was cheaper, and authorities were hungry for outside investment to fuel economic growth.

Ties further flourished after the turn of the century. Taiwanese pop music and television became wildly popular on the mainland, and Chinese tourists flocked to visit Taiwan, promoted by state media as China’s “treasure island.”

A woman holds Taiwanese flags in front of the Presidential Palace before the National Day celebration starts in Taipei, Taiwan, on October 10, 2021.
In 2015, then-Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou held a historic meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Singapore — but only as leaders of their respective political parties, the Nationalists and Communists. They vowed to reduce hostility, and Ma’s party agreed that both Taiwan and mainland China belong to the same country and favored closer economic cooperation.
However, relations deteriorated quickly after…

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