February 23: The Future of Hong Kong: Implications for Taiwan and US Policy

February 23: The Future of Hong Kong: Implications for Taiwan and US Policy

Wednesday, February 23, 2022 from 9:00AM-10:30AM (ET)

Webcast Only

Event Description:

The Global Taiwan Institute (GTI) is pleased to invite you to a virtual seminar on “The Future of Hong Kong: Implications for Taiwan and US Policy.” Once admiringly referred to as one of the “Four Asian Tigers,” Hong Kong has undergone fundamental changes since its retrocession to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1997. The “high-degree of autonomy” that is guaranteed by the Special Administrative Region’s mini constitution has been systemically eroded as economic and political relations between the two sides became more integrated over the past 25 years. In 2019, widespread demonstrations erupted in the SAR after the Beijing-backed Hong Kong government introduced a controversial extradition bill that spilled over to popular pro-democracy protests. The PRC National People’s Congress in 2020 responded by imposing the “Hong Kong National Security Law” while systematically dismantling the SAR’s democratic institutions and suppressing free expression. There are growing concerns within the international business community about the implications of these events in Hong Kong. For nations with interests in East Asia, these developments have been deeply troubling for their political, security, and economic implications. In Washington, lawmakers have responded by working to impose costs on Beijing for undermining human rights in Hong Kong. A growing sense of solidarity among pro-democracy activists in Taiwan and Hong Kong have enhanced the demonstration effects between the two places. Specifically, Beijing’s authoritarian behavior in Hong Kong has confirmed many long-held fears about the true meaning of the PRC’s “One Country, Two Systems” approach that Beijing still holds out for Taipei. Yet Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China remain intimately connected economically. Has Hong Kong’s political fate been determined? Is Taiwan next? What are the policy implications of China’s crackdown in Hong Kong for Taiwan and US policy? What role will the economic dimensions of relations between the three sides affect the evolution of ties? What can Taipei do to avoid a similar fate?

Speakers will include Richard Bush (Brookings), Kathrin Hille (Financial Times), Dennis Kwok (Harvard University), and Wu Rwei-ren (Academia Sinica). This event will be moderated by GTI Executive Director Russell Hsiao.

The event webcast will be broadcast live on our website and YouTube on Wednesday, February 23 at 9 AM (ET). Register for the event here. Questions for the panel may either be sent by e-mail to contact@globaltaiwan.org or through the chat function on the YouTube page. Questions submitted by registered audience members will be prioritized.

The Speakers:

Richard Bush is a nonresident senior fellow in the Center for East Asia Policy Studies (CEAP) at Brookings. From July 2002 to June 2018, he served as the director of the center, and from 2013 until 2020 he served as the inaugural Chen-Fu and Cecilia Yen Koo Chair in Taiwan Studies. He also holds a joint appointment as a nonresident senior fellow in the Brookings John L. Thornton China Center. Prior to joining Brookings, Bush worked for almost five years as the chairman and managing director of the American Institute in Taiwan. He has also served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs and the National Intelligence Council. His most recent book, “Difficult Choices: Taiwan’s Quest for Security and the Good Life,” was published in 2021. He is also the author or editor of several other books on China and Taiwan, including “Untying the Knot: Making Peace in the Taiwan Strait” (Brookings, 2005), “Perils of Proximity: China-Japan Security Relations” (Brookings, 2010), and “Hong Kong in the Shadow of China: Living with the Leviathan” (Brookings, 2016). Bush received his undergraduate education at Lawrence University and did his graduate work in political science at Columbia University, getting a master’s in 1973 and his doctorate in 1978.

Kathrin Hille is the Financial Times’ Greater China correspondent. After obtaining her masters’ degree in Chinese Studies and German Literature from the University of Hamburg, Hille worked as the editor-in-chief of Asia Bridge—the leading German-speaking professional business magazine related to Asian markets. With 22 years of experience, Hille has also had an extensive career with the Financial Times. First working as world news editor and Asia editor for the Financial Times Deustchland, Hille later worked for the Financial Times as their Taiwan correspondent, Beijing correspondent and Moscow bureau chief. Hille’s work covers a variety of issues, from geopolitics and trade disputes to foreign policy and Taiwanese domestic politics.

Dennis W.H. Kwok is a senior research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. Kwok was a founding member of the Civic Party in Hong Kong, which was one of the key political parties in Hong Kong that championed for the protection of the rule of law, greater democracy and human rights. In 2012, Kwok was elected as the member of the Legislative Council (LegCo) representing the Hong Kong legal profession, and was re-elected in 2016. During his tenure, he focused primarily on access to justice, human rights protection and the independence of the judiciary in Hong Kong. He has also also served on the board of the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, which provided a support network to human rights lawyers in the People’s Republic of China. In addition to his current position, he is also a distinguished scholar at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. A practicing lawyer, Kwok obtained his LLB from King’s College London.

Rwei-ren Wu is an associate research fellow and professor in the Institute of Taiwan History at Academia Sinica. Wu obtained his PhD in Political Science from the University of Chicago and his research covers comparative politics, Asian nationalism (Taiwan, Okinawa, Hong Kong), and modern Japanese and Taiwanese political history. A longtime active participant in Taiwan’s social movements, Dr. Wu recently received a merit award in commentary writing for a Chinese-language piece in The Reporter titled “For an Unfinished Revolution” that supported Hong Kong protest movements.

The Moderator:

Russell Hsiao is the executive director of GTI, senior fellow at The Jamestown Foundation, and adjunct fellow at Pacific Forum. He is a former Penn Kemble fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy and visiting scholar at the University of Tokyo’s Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia. He previously served as a senior research fellow at The Project 2049 Institute and National Security fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Prior to those positions he was the editor of China Brief at The Jamestown Foundation from October 2007- to July 2011 and a special associate in the International Cooperation Department at the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy. While in law school, he clerked within the Office of the Chairman at the Federal Communications Commission and the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center at the Office of the US Trade Representative. Hsiao received his J.D. and certificate from the Law and Technology Institute at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law where he served as the editor-in-chief of the Catholic University’s Journal of Law and Technology. He received a BA in international studies from the American University’s School of International Service and the University Honors Program.

Event Summary:

On Wednesday, February 23, 2021 the Global Taiwan Institute hosted a virtual seminar entitled “The Future of Hong Kong: Implications for Taiwan and US Policy” as part of its 2022 Public Seminar Series. Moderated by GTI Executive Director Russell Hsiao, the event’s panel included: Brookings Senior Non-Resident Fellow Richard Bush, Financial Times’ Greater China Correspondent Kathrin Hille, Harvard Kennedy School Senior Research Fellow Dennis W.H. Kwok, and Academia Sinica Associate Research Fellow and Professor Rwei-ren Wu.

Hsiao began by summarizing recent events related to Hong Kong. He noted that Beijing’s authoritarian behavior in regards to Hong Kong confirmed long-held fears that Beijing would not respect the basic law of “One Country, Two Systems,” and posed questions about what implications current events held for Taiwan’s future and economy.

According to Kwok, the turning point for Hong Kong occurred when the People’s Republic of China released a white paper in 2014 asserting that Beijing had comprehensive jurisdiction over the region—a concept that was at odds with the whole constitutional structure under the basic law of “One Country, Two Systems.” Kwok then spoke on how Hong Kong’s strict zero-COVID policy is harming their economy, arguing that overzealous restrictions are slowing economic recovery. Pivoting towards what implications this has for Taiwan, Kwok noted that China’s policy direction is reflected in how the PRC treated Hong Kong, and that the same approach would likely be applied to Taiwan as well. In Beijing’s takeover of Hong Kong, Beijing was willing to ride out any sanctions or condemnation because they knew that ultimately businesses would stay. In closing, Kwok noted that the international community continues to have a certain level of naivety about the intentions of China under Xi Jinping and that events in Hong Kong should be a wake-up call for the international community.

Bush began by outlining the initial assumptions that the PRC had when they made Hong Kong and Taiwan policy. Firstly, the PRC believed that ethnic Chinese living in Hong Kong and Taiwan would be happy to be reunited with Chinese across the Strait; secondly, they believed that both Taiwanese and Hong Kongers could be won over by material gains; thirdly, they believed that Taiwan and Hong Kong would, in time, recognize the greatness of the PRC and choose to be on the perceived “winning side”; and lastly, the PRC believed that since Taiwan and Hong Kong were not full-fledged democracies, they would be able to make deals with the heads of state without the knowledge of their people. All of these assumptions, Bush argued, were either wrong from the onset, or they have been proven wrong over time. However, China has still been unwilling to accept this reality and update its concept of “One Country, Two Systems” accordingly. Outlining how Beijing was successful in rigging the electoral system for Hong Kong’s Legislative Council and the selection of the chief executive, Bush asserted that if Taiwan adopted “One Country, Two Systems,” it would become a partial democracy where a politician like Tsai Ing-wen could never become president.

Drawing on data, Hille noted that trade between Taiwan and Hong Kong has been increasing over the last couple of years. Last year, Taiwan was Hong Kong’s second largest trading partner, while Hong Kong ranked fourth or fifth among Taiwan’s trading partners, and bilateral trade grew by 37 percent. While it might seem surprising that trade is growing at a time when Taiwanese companies would be expected to decrease trade with Hong Kong and China, in actuality 97 percent of Hong Kong’s exports to Taiwan are re-exports from Taiwanese-owned companies in China. Therefore, an apparent increase in trade is actually due to Taiwanese companies relocating back to Taiwan, especially in the hardware technology industry. A large amount of lower-end, Taiwanese-owned production has also planned to move to ASEAN countries, but currently production has continued to remain in China due to China’s comparatively low frequency of lockdowns. Taiwan has also benefited from comparatively fewer lockdowns, and that—coupled with the recent electronics export boom in Taiwan—has led to two years of economic growth at a time when many other countries have been experiencing recessions. Looking forward, Hille stated that it will be interesting to see to what extent Taiwanese will be troubled by the backsliding of Hong Kong when deciding where to put their wealth. The impression that Taiwan lags behind—or is economically inferior to—Hong Kong is beginning to change and Hille believes that many now see Taiwan as an economically advantageous location compared to Hong Kong.

Wu then spoke about the difficulties that the Taiwanese government faced in granting Hong Kong refugees asylum and indicated that there were two main barriers: the constitution of the Republic of China (ROC) and Taiwan’s fragile international situation. The ROC constitution is designed to accept asylum seekers through state-to-state interactions. However, because Hong Kong is not considered to be a separate state, Hong Kongers have no way to legally seek political asylum in Taiwan. Taiwan’s complicated relations with Beijing also make it wary of giving Beijing an excuse to take aggressive actions against Taiwan. According to Wu, this has created a situation where Taiwan can only help Hong Kong in low-profile ways, and many Hong Kong people who come to Taiwan are sent to third-party countries such as the United States. Overall the Taiwanese government has only been able to shelter roughly 200-300 Hong Kong protestors, which is not many compared to the United States or the United Kingdom. To protect Taiwan’s national security, the Taiwanese government made the following changes to its Hong Kong immigration policy: tightening investment immigration, loosening immigration for middle-class professionals, and strengthening political review of applicants’ China connections. The Taiwanese government also loosened regulations to allow more college and graduate students to immigrate from Hong Kong to Taiwan. 

This summary was written by GTI Spring 2022 Intern Adrienne Wu.

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