On Thursday, Taiwanese officials residing in Hong Kong were told that they would not have their visas renewed unless they agree to sign a document supporting China’s territorial claim over Taiwan under its “one China” policy. According to Reuters, this comes after China’s passage and implementation of the new Hong Kong security law that garnered public criticism from Taiwan. Additionally, Taiwan opened an office in Taipei earlier this month that intends to help people leave Hong Kong.
China’s “one China” policy has origins as early as 1949 and is the diplomatic acknowledgement that there is one sole Chinese government. In accordance with this policy, China’s allies must recognize that they have formal ties with China rather than Taiwan, and therefore cannot formally recognize Taiwan as a separate nation. This is because China regards Taiwan as a deviated province that will be reunited under China one day, stating that mainland China and Taiwan are “one China, two systems,” according to China’s constitution. While Taiwan’s government insists that Taiwan is an independent nation, under the “one China policy” any country that wishes to pursue relations with mainland China must sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
Since the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, mainland China and Taiwan have disputed Taiwan’s sovereignty. Taiwan has its own democratically elected government and is home to over twenty-three million people. China claims that Taiwan is bound by an agreement referred to as the 1992 Consensus, which states that Taiwan belongs to China but allows for differing interpretations on who the legitimate governing entity of Taiwan is. The implicit argument of the 1992 Consensus was that Taiwan had agreed not to seek formal independence from China. However, Taiwan’s current president, Tsai Ing-wen, seems to reject the premises of the 1992 Consensus. In January of 2019, Tsai stated that the idea of “one country, two systems” was unacceptable. This viewpoint is also shared by many members of Tsai’s political party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and indicates that the possibility of a Taiwan that is entirely independent from China in the future is not off the table.
It could be these positions on independence of Taiwan’s current leadership that have led to the Hong Kong government’s pressure on Taiwanese residents to co-sign the “one China” policy since the government of Hong Kong currently operates under the “one China” policy. Mainland China has also never rejected the idea of using force in order to prevent Taiwan from pursuing true independence. President Tsai Ing-wen’s sentiments regarding “one country, two systems” therefore may have caused some alarm among Chinese-backed Hong Kong personnel and prompted them to require Taiwanese officials to sign a document legitimizing the “one China” policy to maintain their visa status in Hong Kong.
One official at Taiwan’s de facto consulate in Hong Kong reported that they and multiple other officials were asked to sign the document by Hong Kong’s government. The same official called the move by the Hong Kong government unprecedented, and that it was an “unnecessary political obstacle” concerning relations between Taiwan and Hong Kong. According to Reuters, the acting chief of the de facto Taiwanese consulate in Hong Kong, Kao Ming-tsun, returned to the island of Taiwan late on Thursday after he refused to sign the document to get his visa renewal. It is unclear whether or not any of the other 15 members of the staff at the de facto Taiwanese consulate in Hong Kong agreed to sign the document. It is also unknown whether any of those staff members have also returned to Taiwan.
While both China and Taiwan remain peaceful for now, the Hong Kong government’s move may worsen the tensions created by President Tsai’s pro-independence sentiments. It is important that China-Taiwan relations are monitored to ensure that any animosity between them does not escalate into a violent situation. If pressure continues to build between China and Taiwan it could be necessary to consider United Nations involvement in order to maintain peace in the region, as conflict between China and Taiwan could have large scale implications including the possibility of a second civil war. It is imperative that the UN along with other peacekeeping international organizations pay attention to any escalation that occurs between China and Taiwan going forward to ensure that this conflict does not become war and human rights are not violated.