WASHINGTON — With the totalitarians’ talent for invective and the Leninist faith that “history” has a Marxist mind of its own, a Beijing-run “news” agency dismissed Taiwan’s presidential election results as “a temporary fluke” and “bubbles left behind by the tides of history.” Actually, this election, just 48 days after Hong Kong’s resounding repudiation of Beijing in November voting, is another boulder in a growing avalanche of evidence, from the islands of Hong Kong and Taiwan to Central Europe, that China need not be accommodated.
The landslide reelection of President Tsai Ing-wen happened despite Beijing’s strenuously expressed objections, economic pressures (e.g., refusing visas to tourists wanting to visit Taiwan, where tourism produces more than 4% of GDP), military intimidation (last year, Beijing’s fighter jets crossed the median line in the Taiwan Strait for the first time in two decades) and surreptitious but flagrant electoral interference.
In a January 2019 speech, China’s President Xi Jinping declared that Taiwan (the Republic of China) “must and will be” reunited with the People’s Republic of China because this is “the great trend in history.” Last September a Twitter account believed to be controlled by Beijing said “once we have dealt with Hong Kong, we will settle the scores with Taiwan, military unification is unavoidable.”
Actually, Hong Kong has dealt with Beijing. Taiwanese voters saw many months of massive Hong Kong protests against Beijing’s attempts to slowly suffocate the city’s freedom. These attempts have revealed the nonsensical nature of the “one country, two systems” fudge by which China disguises the despotic future it envisions for both Hong Kong and Taiwan. They will not go gently into the totalitarian night that Evan Osnos describes in The New Yorker:
“Xi believes that orthodox commitment to Communism is paramount as his country fends off Western influences. ... In a modern twist, 90 million party members have been given an app loaded with Xi’s speeches, quizzes about his life story, and videos on history. (The app keeps track of what they finish.)”
There is the essence of totalitarianism: Not that you cannot participate in politics, but that you must participate.
The Taiwan question, Xi says, “should not be passed down generation after generation.” What question? Taiwan has been effectively a sovereign nation for generations. Taiwan (BEG ITAL)is(END ITAL) independent — it has its own legislature, currency, travel documents, diplomats, etc. — and only a major war (America is committed to defending Taiwan against attempts to change its status by force) can alter this. A bilateral U.S.-Taiwan trade agreement should be the next acknowledgement of Taiwan’s sovereignty.
Time is on Taiwan’s side. There is a steady increase in the majority of Taiwan’s 23.5 million people who self-identify as Taiwanese rather than Chinese. In last Saturday’s legislative elections, the average age of candidates from Tsai’s party (38) was almost 25 years younger than those of the principal opposition party.
Youth will be served. In a Washington Post column last month, Zdenek Hrib, the 38-year-old mayor of Prague, noted that in 2019 China canceled its invitation to four Czech musical ensembles because Tibet’s flag flies over Prague’s city hall. China is attempting to extinguish Tibet’s national identity. Hrib also wrote, “Being a doctor, I have also publicly condemned the forced extraction of organs from members of the Muslim Uighur minority and other prisoners of the [Beijing] regime.” Furthermore, Prague balked when Beijing insisted on — Hrib’s predecessor as mayor had agreed to — a clause in a “sister-city” agreement that renounced the independence of Tibet and Taiwan. China canceled the agreement. So, on Monday Prague signed a sister-city agreement with Taipei, Taiwan’s capital where Hrib spent two months as a medical student, and where he has been made an honorary citizen. “I vowed during the campaign,” Hrib says, “that I would return to our hallowed post-communist traditions of honoring democracy and human rights.”
The Financial Times reports that when, at a reception welcoming diplomats to Prague, China’s ambassador demanded that Taiwan’s representative be expelled from the reception, Hrib replied that he does not throw out invited guests. “So he repeated his request multiple times, and blocked the queue of other ambassadors waiting for my welcome. They were tapping his shoulder and saying: ‘Maybe you could do this somewhere else.’”
Bad manners and execrable behavior can both be reflections of a disrespect for civilized norms by a bully invoking “history” as his alibi. China is learning, contrary to its ideology, that people make history, not the other way around.
George F. Will writes a twice-weekly column on politics and domestic and foreign affairs. He began his column with The Washington Post in 1974, and he received the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1977.
George Will’s email address is email@example.com.