In the beginning, it was Taiwan . . . | Being Basic (Law) is good

‘One Country, Two Systems’ was first conceived to convince Taiwan to return to the fold. Falling on deaf ears, Beijing seeks a new idea

In a famous 1996 speech delivered at the meeting of the Hong Kong Basic Law Drafting Commission, Deng Xiaoping said: “Within the territory of the People’s Republic of China the socialist regime is applied in Mainland China and the capitalist regime in Hong Kong and Taiwan.” 

In 1996, Chinese officials still nurtured the hope of enticing Taiwan via the model, but 20 years later this dream has dissipated.  

More: although Deng had put Hong Kong and Taiwan on the same plane, the idea of ‘One Country, Two Systems’ emerged to include Taiwan, using Hong Kong and Macau as the fulcrum (thus resolving these two problems as well). Deng is attributed “the theory of the development of socialism with Chinese characteristics,” seeking the unification of the Chinese state, and addressing the problem of Taiwan. 

“It is unfortunate that a good design, an innovative policy, a potential so huge, can be undermined in a short period by its practical application” – Paulo Cardinal 

What has happened since the idea was born, during the early 1980s, and the present? 

First of all, the fact is that in Taiwan all major parties rejected the proposal, even those who favoured integration with China. 

But that alone would not be enough for Beijing to give up. 

The experience in Hong Kong (and even in Macau) did not help to convince the inhabitants of Taiwan. Best and ultimate example: Tsai Ing-wen of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party won the 2016 Presidential elections.  

“It is unfortunate that a good design, an innovative policy, a potential so huge, can be undermined in a short period by its practical application,” Paulo Cardinal, Macau academic and constitutional expert, put it to Macau Business, “with deviations, with constant moving of posts to what is permissible and what is not, with important and structural institutes such as the Rule of Law carrying now an idea of weakness, of uncertainty or even failure, and a certain aura of promises broken.”  

Mr. Cardinal cites examples from the Hong Kong experience: “Big confusions in parliament, courts being questioned for the first time on their traditional independence, some leaders being allowed to break the law while other politicians on the other side of the spectrum were immediately penalised for even minor offences. Rightly or wrongly, and in several issues, rightly, this is the general muddled idea or image of Hong Kong as a second system under siege.” 

Obviously, China has not given up on Taiwan but it is also certain that it will not achieve a peaceful unification by using the principle of ‘One Country, Two Systems.’ 

Perhaps that is why, until there is a better idea that convinces Taipei to return to Beijing’s sovereignty, the latest statements by top Chinese leaders seek only to attack the idea of Taiwan declaring independence.