The timing was ominously weird. A day before tens of thousands took to the streets in Hong Kong to press for universal suffrage, an affront to Beijing’s more authoritarian rule, Chinese President Xi Jinpingsuggested that staunchly self-ruled, democratic Taiwan also join his country. Taiwan, of course, said of course not. Taiwan has run its own affairs since the 1940s despite China’s claims of sovereignty and efforts tosquelch its influence internationally. China rules Hong Kong under a model that it describes as “one country, two systems.” That’s supposed to mean a high degree of economic and political autonomy for the former British colony and world financial center that Beijing acquired in 1997. Looks like Hong Kong isn’t getting that autonomy as China insists over the voice of protesters that a preselected committee, not the electorate, choose the territory’s next chief executive in 2017. Then Xi suggested one country, two systems as a model for governing Taiwan.
“Xi may have felt that it was necessary to get on the record that principles regarding reunification have not changed,” says Alan Romberg, East Asia Program director at The Stimson Center, a Washington D.C. think tank. Xi did not give a reunification timeline, Romberg noted, reducing any sense of urgency. “Moreover, he tried to make the ‘one country, two systems’ approach more palatable by observing that Beijing would, in implementing its policy, take into account Taiwan’s special history and circumstances. This was a soft suggestion that things would not simply be a copy of the formula applied in Hong Kong.”
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