Although Hong Kong’s massive population is far smaller than that of its neighbor to the west, experts say, the potential tensions are real.
A growing mainland crackdown on the financial hub has Taiwanese authorities worried that they could be next, given the protectionist stance the island’s leaders take toward trade with Beijing.
In December, President Tsai Ing-wen announced that she won’t recognize the outcome of a 2017 independence referendum, which was met with a storm of criticism. Taiwanese authorities confirmed last week that mainland China had blacklisted the organ donor registry operator which supported the referendum.
Economic sanctions have also been considered to pressure the city-state, whose capital, Mong Kok, has been the scene of deadly rioting last month over proposed restrictions on demonstrations. Taiwan’s electronics giant Foxconn has been blocked from setting up an assembly plant in the city.
Hong Kong’s official Singapore newspaper, The Straits Times, reported last week that mainland China’s commerce ministry has threatened to stop the trade route between the two island-faring nations, if Taiwanese firms enter the territory.
The South China Morning Post reported that mainland China had also threatened to bar Taiwan’s top two parties from meeting in the the mainland, citing a source with direct knowledge of the discussions.
On Feb. 13, China’s ruling Communist Party said it had summoned Taiwan’s President Tsai to tell her to toe Beijing’s line after Taiwan’s relations with the mainland fell to their lowest levels in decades.
Several Taiwan-based multinationals are operating in Hong Kong, including the makers of HomeGate home security and Philips personal care products.
But Taiwan’s top newspapers have been filling up with editorials warning that the possibility of a Chinese crackdown on Taiwan is a growing reality that time is running out.
“Election after election, when Tsai was elected president of Taiwan, no effort was made to name Taiwan’s official position toward the status of Hong Kong as close to the independence of the island,” the editorial in the Chiang Kai-shek daily said.
Last month’s deadly riots in Hong Kong has focused Taiwanese on how their territory is on the same path as Hong Kong, if not going faster. And with their economy moving more in Beijing’s favor, few have the opportunity to voice an independent stance on their own territory.
But if there is one group that has done it without fear, it’s the Beijing-watching contingents from Taiwan’s liberal institutions, who have famously watched as Beijing has moved to repress a wave of so-called pro-independence thinking that has been especially prevalent in recent years among the Chinese-speaking youth on the island.
On the list of 19 mainland Chinese websites blocked by Taiwan government officials, is the the Hong Kong-based democracy activist organizations including the group that received the ban.