Fourteen years of contact between Hong Kong and China have failed to ‘transform’ China. What makes anyone think the outcome will be any different with Taiwan?
I had the honor yesterday of having lunch with the consul-general in Hong Kong of a certain Scandinavian country, who was leading a delegation of officials on a short fact-finding visit in Taiwan. During our wide-ranging, 90-minute lunch, we touched on a number of topics regarding politics in Taiwan, from the January elections — the object of their invitation — to relations between Taiwan and China.
Toward the end of our meeting, one member of the delegation asked me for my opinion on the ability of Chinese reporters based in Taiwan to truthfully report on the electoral process, and whether this would be an opportunity for China to learn more about what it is like to evolve in a pluralistic democracy.
My response was something to the effect that Chinese reporters were pre-approved by their state-owned media and that it was unlikely anything they sent back across the Taiwan Strait that did not reflect Beijing’s official line was unlikely to make it past the censors. I added that Chinese media were increasingly pooled, with regional media allowed only to reproduce the “official” version provided by state media (such as its wire agencies).
The consul-general, a keen and engaging observer of politics in the region, said that based on his experience in Hong Kong and travels in the mainland, he was not very optimistic about the prospects of Chinese reporters based in Taiwan providing as an honest window for Chinese to learn about Taiwan. While, with some exceptions like the Apple Daily, Hong Kong media have relative ease of (though by no means free) access in China, the opposite is markedly different, he said, with Chinese reporting on events in Hong Kong providing a highly censored version. On the large protests that are held in the Special Administrative Region on a regular basis over matters such as universal suffrage (which remains beyond reach), freedom of expression or Article 23 of the Basic Law, Chinese media will almost invariably portray them as instances of civil unrest threatening stability, while negating all mention of the root causes of the protests or the context in which they occurred. In other words, the aim of Chinese reporting about Hong Kong is to portray democracy as “chaotic” and “unruly,” as something undesirable and potentially dangerous in the mainland.
If Chinese media failed to learn from their contact with Hong Kong, there is little reason to believe that things will be any different with Taiwan. It’s been 14 years since the territory was “returned” to China; those who advocate contact as a means to liberalize and democratize China have very little to show to support that theory.