Hong Kong protests have boosted Tsai Ing-wen in Taiwan, says professor

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen waves while registering as the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) 2020 presidential candidate at the party’s headquarter in Taipei on March 21, 2019.

Sam Yeh | AFP | Getty Images

Ahead of Taiwan’s presidential elections in January, President Tsai Ing-wen has seen a huge bump in voter support since the Hong Kong protests started more than four months ago.

“The Hong Kong protests have had a tremendous impact on Taiwan politics and the upcoming election,” and “really given a bounce to Tsai Ing-wen” said Elizabeth Freund Larus, professor of political science and international affairs at the University of Mary Washington.

Her comments come as self-governed Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China, celebrates its national day on the anniversary of an agreement reached with the mainland’s Communist Party of China. That deal stated that the CPC would recognize Taiwan’s founding Kuomintang ruling party government as legitimate.

‘One country, two systems’

Yet, Beijing now views the island as a runaway province and has pushed for reunification. In his speech commemorating the 70th anniversary of communist China, President Xi Jinping said, “Forging ahead, we must remain committed to the strategy of peaceful reunification, and ‘one country, two systems.'”

Tsai said Thursday that Hong Kong, hit by months-long anti-government protests, was “on the edge of disorder” due to the failure of a political arrangement guaranteeing certain freedoms, according to Reuters.

Hong Kong, a former British colony returned to China as a semi-autonomous city in 1997. It now operates under the “one country, two systems” principle, in which Beijing grants Hong Kong citizens financial and legal independence from the mainland.

“Taiwan is seeing the protests in Hong Kong, and sees that this is the nail in the coffin to ‘one country, two systems,'” said international relations professor Larus.

Anti-government protests have rocked Hong Kong for over four months now. They first erupted over a now withdrawn extradition bill that would have allowed fugitives to be transferred to mainland China for trial.

Tsai’s likely re-election

In a Reuters account of her National Day speech, Tsai said China’s “one country, two systems” proposal for Taiwan would “pose a serious challenge to regional stability and peace.”

“The overwhelming consensus among Taiwan’s 23 million people is our rejection of ‘one country, two systems,’ regardless of party affiliation or political position,” she said, according to Reuters.

To Beijing’s dismay, Larus said that Tsai has a “good chance” of being re-elected.

“Cross-strait relations have been really chilly since Tsai Ing-wen became president because she has not accepted the 1992 consensus, which the basis is the ‘One China’ principle,” she said.

Mainland China is wary of any moves by Taiwan to more clearly establish independence. Beijing has threatened to cut ties with countries that reject its “One China” policy by recognizing Taiwan as a sovereign state.

Tsai, the leader of the Democratic Progressive Party, has repeatedly denied seeking formal independence despite her party’s goals of “encouraging democracy” and “protecting sovereignty.”

Beijing will more likely put more economic and diplomatic pressure and constraints on Taiwan going forward but will not deploy any military forces, Larus told CNBC.

Watch: What is the ‘One China Policy’?

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