Divisions between China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan

by Kelly Vorndran
January 15, 2015

Political divisions in and among China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan will continue to simmer throughout 2015. Developments in 2015 will determine the course of Hong Kong and Taiwan’s elections in 2016 and 2017, which could alter economic and governance relations with Beijing.

By Kelly Vorndan

January 15, 2015

2014 saw discord in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Hong Kong, and Taiwan. President Xi Jinping’s anticorruption campaign reportedly divided opinions among top leaders and party elders, particularly over the high-profile charges against ex-security czar and former Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang. The anticorruption crackdown has largely been understood as a means for Xi to consolidate power within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), as well as weaken rival factions and restore public trust in the CCP. Further bolstering Xi’s authority are his new roles as the chairman of the National Security Commission and head of the Leading Group for Deepening Reform in the Central Committee.

In the year ahead, Xi will continue his anticorruption drive and implement a new “rule of law” campaign to bolster the PRC constitution. However, Beijing faces notable challenges in other areas, including implementing economic reforms to address declining growth. An economic downturn could lead to political unrest, job cuts, or lower wages. In addition to these economic challenges, Xi will have to contend with the ramifications of the large-scale protests in Hong Kong and Taiwan in 2014. In both places, protestors reflected public dissatisfaction with their government and its relationship with the PRC.

In the case of Hong Kong, demonstrations during the last few months of 2014 shook the normally stable and practical city. The former British colony witnessed the Umbrella Revolution—a massive student-led occupation of its financial heart, highlighting growing divisions between the Hong Kong public and the mainland government. The protests stemmed from Beijing’s decision that all candidates for the 2017 chief executive election, during which Hong Kong will enjoy universal suffrage for the first time, will be vetted by a pro-Beijing committee.

The Umbrella Revolution, which lasted from late September to early December, failed to force the Hong Kong or mainland government to enact any policy changes, but the protests shined a spotlight on future problems that Beijing will face with Hong Kong’s younger generation. On the surface, Hong Kong will return to business as usual. But underlying tensions, paired with continued protest efforts by student leaders, could result in renewed unrest as the public looks ahead to the 2016 legislative elections and the 2017 chief executive election.

In early 2014, Taiwan also dealt with domestic unrest over governance issues and the state of relations with the PRC. The Sunflower Student Movement protested the ratification of the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA) without a detailed review by the legislature, an action seen as subverting the democratic process. Protests resulted in student occupation of the Legislative Yuan and widespread debate within Taiwan about the direction and pace of cross-strait engagement. Observers note that such public dissatisfaction, combined with popular discontent on social and economic issues, resulted in the Kuomintang (KMT) losing several districts to the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the November elections.

This shifting of the political tide in the DPP’s favor carries significant implications for the political environment in 2015 in the run-up to the 2016 presidential race. The DPP’s platform on cross-strait engagement will come under scrutiny, and the KMT will have to grapple with steering the course on economic integration after the CSSTA setback.

As a whole, 2015 will witness continued division in Hong Kong and Taiwan over their relationships with China in the lead-up to key elections in 2016 and 2017. In order to maintain the stability that the government values above all else, China will need to strike a balance with Taiwan and Hong Kong, even as it attempts to implement economic reforms and strengthen the rule of law on the mainland.