Atlantic Council

Democratic Developments in Asia

Welcome and Moderator:
Barry Pavel,
Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security

Sophie Richardson,
China Director,
Human Rights Watch

Alan Romberg,
East Asia Program Director,
Stimson Center

Location: The Atlantic Council, Washington, D.C.

Date: Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Transcript by
Federal News Service
Washington, D.C.

BARRY PAVEL: Well, thanks, everyone, for joining the Atlantic Council on a beautiful day in Washington. Because of the weather, our last speaker is arriving momentarily rather than sitting on the chair you see that is empty. But we have assurances he’ll be here within five or 10 minutes.

I’m Barry Pavel. I’m the director of the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security here at the – at the Atlantic Council. And today we warmly welcome Dr. Sophie Richardson, Mr. Alan Romberg; and when he arrives, Mr. Chris Johnson; as well as David Wertime, our moderator.

This is part of the “Cross-Straits Series” of the Brent Scowcroft Center’s Asia Security Initiative, where we examine a range of strategic issues surrounding Cross-straits relations. And we’d particularly like to thank the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the U.S. for making this event happen.

Today’s event is an important one as the Hong Kong protests continue. They’re in the heart of Hong Kong, Asia’s most prominent financial center. And they present what some have characterized as the greatest strategic challenge to Beijing since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. The immediate impetus for the demonstrations were new measures proposed by China’s authorities that would limit whom Hong Kongers can elect in the 2017 elections, but the political impacts shaking Hong Kong really center on far deeper fault lines, which I hope very much we’ll get into in our discussion today: questions of freedom and democracy in China, the ability of Beijing’s rulers to cope with the aspirations of those in Hong Kong.

The protests certainly also serve as a stark reminder of something we spend quite a bit of time on here at the Scowcroft Center. And that is the rise of what we call individual empowerment in the context of broader global trends that are playing out, which we do a lot of work on for a range of partners here. And individual empowerment may be the most important mega-trend that is unfolding over the next 10 or 20 years. And it has vast implications for U.S. strategy, how the U.S. works with its allies and partners, including Taiwan. And a lot of statecraft, in my opinion, in the future will be driven by what I call “streetcraft.”

And so much more to come, I think, many more events like this, unrest and instability in very important regions of the world for the United States and our partners as we watch these trends unfold between now and 2030, which was the date of the last U.S. National Intelligence Council projection of global trends, which they do every four years.

So how will this continue to unfold? What do these protests mean for Hong Kong, for China, for Taiwan? How might they affect cross-straits situations, if at all? And I know our panel will get into that. So fortunately for us today we have very, very good speakers and experts to discuss the impacts of the Hong Kong demonstrations, how China might evolve its thinking and associated issues.

So let me just briefly introduce our speakers before turning to the panel.

At the far end, Dr. Sophie Richardson serves as the China director at Human Rights Watch. Dr. Richardson is the author of numerous articles on domestic Chinese political reforms, democratization; human rights in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Vietnam. She’s testified before the European Parliament and before the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, including recently, I think I just learned. She is the author of “China, Cambodia, and the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence,” a 2009 in-depth examination of China’s foreign policy since 1954’s Geneva Conference, including, I’m told, some rare interviews with policymakers.

So welcome, Dr. Richardson, and thanks for coming.

Mr. Alan Romberg is the distinguished fellow and director of the East Asia Program at the Stimson Center. Before joining Stimson in September of 2000, he enjoyed a distinguished career working on Asian issues both in and out of government, including 27 years in the Department of State, over 20 years as a Foreign Service officer. Mr. Romberg was the principal deputy director of the State Department’s policy planning staff, principal deputy assistant secretary of state of public affairs, and a deputy spokesman for the department.

So Mr. Romberg brings a vast amount of experience on Asian issues. And thanks to him also for coming today.

Lastly Mr. David Wertime, the moderator of this event, currently serves as the senior editor of “Tea Leaf Nation.” I would love to hear more about that. It has evocations of other movements these days. David joined “Foreign Policy” after having cofounded “Tea Leaf Nation,” a news site that’s dedicated to Chinese citizen and social media, which was acquired by the Foreign Policy Group in December of last year. He is a Chinaphile fellow at the Asia Society and an associate fellow at the Truman National Security Project. A former lawyer in New York and Hong Kong, David first encountered China as a Peace Corps volunteer.

And I think with that I’ll hand it off to David. And as I said, I think our other panelist, Mr. Johnson from CSIS, will be arriving shortly. Thanks.

DAVID WERTIME: Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for the intro, and thanks to all of you for coming out in these adverse weather circumstances.

I guess I’d like to just first give an opportunity – I believe it’s first – Dr. Richardson – to deliver opening remarks. Did I get the order correct, or was it Mr. Romberg?


DAVID WERTIME: Alan, please, if you don’t mind, go ahead, and then we’ll kick it over to you, Sophie.

ALAN ROMBERG: Sure. Well, thank you very much for having me here and for all of you, as has already been said, for coming out on this rather nasty day. The topic I’ve been asked to address is the effect/impact of protests in Hong Kong on Taiwan, on Taiwan’s future relations with the mainland and importance for Taiwan as it rethinks its own future and its values.

I’m going to start with an observation that may be controversial. It’s already been debunked by some pundits, but it’s what I think, which is that the Hong Kong demonstrations in fact have had very little effect in Taiwan, including on the November 29 local elections. Some effect, yes, but not a whole lot.

The fact is that not only do most people in Taiwan pay very little attention to Hong Kong – obviously they sympathize with the demonstrators from various parts of the political spectrum, they have expressed support for democracy and the democracy movement, and of course there has been some liaison between folks in Taiwan and folks in Hong Kong – but basically the larger majority of people in Taiwan see little correlation between Hong Kong’s situation and their own.

I mean, Hong Kong was a colony until reversion. Taiwan, at least since World War II, has not been. Hong Kong had no choice regarding reversion. Certainly up to this point Taiwan has not had to succumb to that. Hong Kong has never really enjoyed true democracy. Taiwan has developed into a robust, some would say raucous, democracy over several decades.

And despite the limitations that Taiwan’s diplomatic situation imposes on its international participation, the fact is it’s active all over the world in its own right, and people in Taiwan run their own affairs in this regard. And people in Hong Kong do have active participation in many ways, but it’s quite different. I mean, you’ll recall that the “one country, two systems” formula was originally created for Taiwan, where it not only has never been applied, but it also has never been accepted. It was applied in Hong Kong and Macau when retrocession took place in the late ’90s, but the view in Taiwan has only become stronger that that formulation has no relevance to Taiwan.

I mean, frankly most of the time people in Taiwan ignore it, but when Beijing seeks to press its validity or when there are problems in Hong Kong, as this year, people in Taiwan across again the political spectrum would say: See, I told you, it doesn’t apply to us.

The reaction obviously was particularly strong this year in response both to the June white paper on “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong and the August NPC decision on voting procedures for 2017 that have been the spark of the recent protests. Why? Well, despite asserting that Hong Kong enjoys a high degree of autonomy and the principle of Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong, in fact the white paper went to some lengths to spell out ways in which the central government directly exercises jurisdiction over Hong Kong and to point out perhaps even almost acidly, as it was viewed in the event, that, quote, “The high degree of autonomy” of the HKSAR, the special administration region, is not an inherent power but one that comes solely from the authorization by the central leadership. The high degree of autonomy of the HKSAR is not full autonomy nor a decentralized power. It’s the power to run local affairs as authorized by the central leadership.

And it went on to point out the most important thing to do in upholding one-country principle is to maintain China’s sovereignty, security and development interests and respect the country’s fundamental system and other systems and – (audio break) – one country is the premise and basis of two systems, and the two systems is subordinate and derived from one country. The two systems under the one country are not on a par with each other.

I mean, why would people in Taiwan find that appealing, right?

Now, ironically – and we can come back to this if you want – I would suggest that actually if we want to talk about effects between Hong Kong and Taiwan, I would say that probably developments in Taiwan have had more effects on what’s happened in Hong Kong than the other way around. But however one evaluates the Sunflower Movement of last spring, whether for good or not, it seems to have stood as a role model for at least the students in Hong Kong.

One thing that’s clear in both cases and that there’s some parallels is that students and other young people are going to have to be taken more seriously into account as authorities try to fashion future policies and arrangements. And that means both locally authorities but also authorities in Beijing.

The fact that, at least as I view it – Sophie and Chris may have a different view – but the fact that the students are not at this point winning their battle is one of those areas where people in Taiwan observe their situation is different. Though they share some of the same complaints about jobs, income inequality, aloof leadership and so on, young people in Taiwan have a clear path to bringing about change, the ballot box, a path they apparently used to good effect in recent days, at least if anecdotal evidence and some preliminary polling is to be believed.

In terms of the future relationship with the mainland, if Beijing is wise, which is a word that Chinese officials like to use when discussing policy choices by others – so I’ll use it towards them – it’s going to take account – into account the shifting realities that the emergence of young people reflects. That doesn’t mean they have to assume that younger voters will have the power alone to determine the future of either society.

One of the things I did in preparation for this was go back and look at some unemployment and employment statistics. And I note that Taiwan 20- to 24-year-olds suffer from clearly the most significant level of unemployment in society by quite some margin, 50 percent more than the cohort just behind them, 15- to 19-year-olds, and twice the rate of the 25- to 29-year-olds.

So it’s a very difficult group to be in if you’re looking at your opportunities. But that group only represents 7 percent of the population, and it’s been shrinking. So they’re not going to – they’re not going to determine the future. But in the past it’s been observed that young people really didn’t turn out and vote. That may now be changing, and we’re going to have to see of course.

But in any case, in recognition of the greater activism of young people, the mainland had already made some adjustments well before the Hong Kong situation developed. It already adopted a policy that they called the “three middles and one young,” (in Chinese), with the four targets of their activity being the grassroots in Taiwan, including small and medium enterprises, middle and lower classes, common people in central and southern Taiwan, and younger people.

We also know that for similar reasons both political parties in Taiwan have made appeal to youths a key aspect of their future plans. Seems to me so far the DPP has been more successful at this than the KMT, but anyway they both tried.

And in thinking about their futures, both parties have to think about critical domestic issues such as the economy, where jobs are going to be important, social welfare, education, health issues, food safety, so forth. They also need to focus on how to manage cross-strait relations and how they can persuade voters that they, one party or the other, has an approach that better serves the interests of the voter than the opposition. And this is because Taiwan’s security is so heavily tied up in relations with Beijing and because Taiwan’s economic benefits, its economic future is so heavily tied up as well.

The DPP likes to argue that Taiwan should diversify its markets, but lots of people argue this. It’s a lot easier to say than to do. I think one needs to be careful not to make light of the rather extensive economic liberalization that’s going to be required for Taiwan to participate in regional economic groupings such as TPP if there is going to be a TPP and to also – I think there’s a risk that it disregards or downplays the ability Beijing has to block Taiwan’s aspirations both through regional participation and major bilateral economic agreements.

And for the KMT, it may have policies that take account of this well enough and the importance of cross-strait relations to Taiwan’s future, but so far it has not seemed to find a way to convince everyone in Taiwan that the party’s approach is necessarily the one that is in their best interest. So there will be a lot of back-and-forth in the coming campaign for the presidency in 2016 about that. And this is going to be an issue for the entire electorate, including young people.

So the bottom line for Taiwan in terms of the impact of developments in Hong Kong on its own future and on relations across the strait, I think, is to underscore the importance of democracy and the undesirability for people in Taiwan of coming under any sort of arrangement that amounts to unification, be it in terms of “one country, two systems” or anything else.

By the way, I was recently in China, and my interlocutors during the visit were rather rueful that Beijing seems stuck with having to use this “one country, two systems” label for Taiwan as it does for Hong Kong, but it came from Deng Xiaoping, and it seems that nobody is really ready to challenge that, right.

But at the same time, these folks hint that actually application of this formula to Taiwan would be entirely or at least in major, major ways different from the way it’s being applied in Hong Kong. But the fact is they don’t define it. And I don’t think frankly that the people in Taiwan at this point would trust it.

So the issue in Taiwan is how to figure out not how to accommodate “one country, two systems.” It’s how to manage cross-strait relations over the coming decades without either provoking Beijing into use of coercion or even force on the one hand or on the other hand yielding on its – Taiwan’s insistence it doesn’t come under Beijing’s authority. And each party, as I say, is going to spend a lot of effort trying to persuade voters it has the best approach to achieving that.

I think my final comment would be that Beijing also needs to think hard how to proceed and how to allow this process to proceed over time. I think – because I think there need to be adjustments. The mainland leaders say that they worry about the forces of independence in – on the island.

So far I would argue that they have basically ensured that there won’t be a movement to formal independence. But they’ve also ensured that there’s almost no support for and rather massive opposition to reunification.

So I think time is needed between the mainland and Taiwan to work toward each other, toward some solution that can genuinely satisfy both sides of the strait, that their bottom-line goals and principles are being respected. Is it doable? I think it is doable but only over a long period of time and a willingness on both sides to think new thoughts about such things as the definitions of crucial concepts such as “one China” or unification or even sovereignty.

They aren’t close to that, obviously. And if anything, events in Hong Kong will keep them apart. But the lessons from Hong Kong are not really the determining considerations. And in fact, as I’ve said, Hong Kong’s situation is not truly analogous to Taiwan’s. And for either side of the strait to get hung up on avoiding a Hong Kong situation, I think, would only hinder their ability to move ahead. And I hope and I think that neither side is going to make that mistake.

So with that I’ll quit.


SOPHIE RICHARDSON: Great, thanks. Thanks for inviting me to join you this morning. I’m going to try to be very succinct so that we can leave lots of time for questions. I’m going to talk about effects first and causes second. And I hope – maybe a little counterintuitive, but hopefully you’ll bear with me.

I was asked to speak a little bit about the effects on human rights and civil society in the mainland of the protests in Hong Kong. I think some of the most immediate effects were fairly visible and have been reasonably well documented. At the top of the list, the detention now of more than a hundred activists who publicly, audibly, visibly evinced sympathy with the protests. The first one we logged was in – was within, I think, about 24 hours of the protests in Hong Kong beginning. The Chinese government has now – appears to have put in place some regulation, algorithm, formula that’s effectively banning a number of students and protesters from traveling into the mainland. In effect their home return permits have been canceled, a subject that’s dear to David’s heart; certainly a spike in Internet censorship – (inaudible) – anything related to protests to comical effect, I think, with some difficulties for several days for mainland umbrella manufacturers to actually get their products shipped because some of their correspondence got censored.

There were some really shrill insistences – insistence on the part of mainland authorities that the demonstrations have been constructed, fomented, prolonged by various foreign forces, which among other things is feeding into a parallel narrative in the mainland of heightened scrutiny of and suspicion of foreign-funded NGOs. I expect we’ll see some organizations be asked to leave the mainland in the coming year. And I think this sort of feeds into that narrative.

I think the developments in Hong Kong are also a very problematic sign for people who long relied – for mainlanders who long relied on Hong Kong as one of the places to go to be able to discuss, to do research, to meet, to organize. And I think the – part of the hostility on the central government’s part towards the demonstration was to say to people in the mainland: Do not think about going and getting involved in this, and don’t think that your activities there, even if they’re separate from the demonstrations, won’t be scrutinized.

I think the response, the relatively tepid response from governments in other parts of the world that claim to defend democracy and human rights, has on some level been interpreted by mainland activists that they can only count so much on the outside world to defend their interests with their concerns over time. And arguably I think the biggest takeaway is that none of the mainland’s reactions bodes well for either its domestic or international legal obligations, specifically with respect to human rights commitments but, I think, more broadly about the nature of compliance essentially. I don’t think it suggests an interest in coming to grips with peaceful dissent or accepting for Hong Kong, for Tibet, or for Xinjiang the idea that successful governments around the world have officials and administrations with regions that benefit from autonomy – autonomous policies, you know, where local-level views and practices differ significantly from those at the national level.

Very quickly, because effects obviously flow from causes, I wanted to speak a little bit about some of the problems or the pathologies that we see in the mainland that I think we have largely – that largely explain the reaction to developments in Hong Kong. It’s certainly our view that under Xi Jinping, the government and the party have unleashed one of the harshest campaigns against civil society and peaceful dissent that we’ve seen probably in a decade. We have seen off-the-charts harsh sentences.

The kinds of behavior for which people are being detained that’s considered criminal is really unprecedented, cases, for example, of people who are doing no more than standing on a street corner, holding a sign with an excerpt from a Xi Jinping speech about corruption, being detained. You know, one person stands up in public and says these things and gets to run the country; somebody else stands on a street corner holding that sign and gets detained – I think that’s a pretty clear indication of hostility towards freedom of expression.

It’s our view also that this hard-line approach has been especially discernible in autonomous or peripheral regions, depending on how you want to describe them – Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet. We have in recent years documented erosions to rights in Hong Kong, and we believe that those are in many ways consistent with or driven by concerns in the mainland, ranging from attacks on journalists, concerns about immigration, about surveillance, even about education policy. I think the larger – the larger problem is that Beijing is making clear that it doesn’t particularly see a downside to encroaching on these rights in Hong Kong, consistent with the way it doesn’t particularly see a downside to encroaching on these rights in the mainland.

So I’m going to stop there and pass the baton to Chris.

CHRISTOPHER JOHNSON: Great, thanks very much. And deep apologies for being late. Let me just elaborate a little bit, I think, because you just hit the key issue for me, which is that in my sense, much of what we’re seeing with what’s happening in Hong Kong is that you have a very different leader in charge in China now, especially as it regards Hong Kong and how he perceives Hong Kong.

You know, my sense is that what was interesting about his two predecessors was that both of them in some way or another had people either directly close to them or associates of some sort or another, who were living or operating in Hong Kong in some way. And so when we had problems down there in the past, these people were often quick to communicate to the leadership, you know, don’t do anything, take it easy, keep – you know, keep your hands off, and this will die down.

I think with Xi Jinping, A, he doesn’t have that resource; but B, I think he’s inclined, frankly, to handle the situation in a much different way than his predecessors. Some of this is part and parcel with what we’ve seen out of his speech at the recent foreign affairs work conference, just the general idea of Chinese activism and, you know, “it’s our time,” if you will, and others need to accept that.

But I think there are certain key aspects to him. One is that I think his view is quite simply, it’s ours: Hong Kong is ours; the rest of you need to accept that Hong Kong is ours; it’s an administration of China, and we’re going to run it the way we would run things here; it’s a Chinese city, not some special place that gets all sorts of special rights and privileges. I think that’s his mindset.

A second piece is that he spent his whole career running, you know, coastal provinces or coastal cities that the mainland sees as natural competitors to Hong Kong over time. You know, again, my view is that Xi Jinping senses that by 2030 – or pick your time frame – Hong Kong is just another large city, not – in China, not what it is today.

And I also have the strong sense that – I believe it – his father, Xi Zhongxun, was actually running the Hong Kong portfolio at a time when it was a hostile base of foreign subversion when the British were running things in there and so on in the 1950s. So he probably picked some of this up, I guess, around the dinner table.

So my strong sense is that his view is simply that we need to stop with the farce of, you know, the way this works and they need to accept their position. And I think there’s very much a view on Xi’s part that Hong Kong is, you know, a bunch of petulant children who don’t appropriately appreciate the largesse of the central government in keeping the Hong Kong economy flowing, you know, and so on and so on.

So with these mindsets, I think it’s very difficult for them to take any other approach than what they’ve taken. And it’s been interesting to see when Xi Jinping makes comments about Hong Kong what he includes from the longstanding rhetoric and what he doesn’t include. And you know, certainly the statements about Hong Kong having a high degree of autonomy – he tends to conveniently leave those off in a lot of comments he’s made.

So the question is – I was asked to address, you know, what are they learning from this situation and so on. I think the key takeaway, frankly, has been what you just addressed, which is that they’re getting away with it for the most part. And you know, certainly talking to some Chinese when I was there recently, especially about the U.K. government’s approach toward this whole process, they feel they’ve had a major win there, you know, that the U.K. really has been basically silent, they haven’t helped themselves by denying these people entry, you know, and so that caused another dustup. But my sense is that the mainland is very confident that their approach is working.

And number two, I think their view is that we’ll just wait this out and they will eventually dissipate. The issue, of course, there is that, as Alan was pointing out, they’re not addressing those core underlying issues that are driving all of this. I mean, one thing that’s so interesting to me is there’s a longstanding correlation in social science research in Hong Kong between protest activity and the state of the economy. You know, bad economy, people protest; good economy, they don’t. And yet under these circumstances, at least notionally, the economy is very strong. And yet we see the protest activity across a wide variety of societal sectors. So that should be something that gets China’s attention.

Something I’ve heard in talking to the Hong Kong and Macau people in Beijing about this is they’re tending to ascribe a lot of what’s going on down there to this issue of income inequality and that they see that as the root cause of what’s happening, not mainland policies but that this is an income inequality problem and, oh, by the way, Singapore has this – you know, several other places has this – the United States has this problem, and we’re thinking about addressing the problem from that point of view. So I was told by some fairly senior people to think about – to be on the lookout for policies coming from the mainland that would be perhaps more overt than they usually are with regard to how they deal with Hong Kong and designed specifically to target this issue of income inequality.

So this is – and it’s very consistent. It’s like on Taiwan. You know, they can never admit there’s a broader problem, right; it’s however many bad apples, right, and everybody else are good compatriots. And I think that’s what’s happening in the Hong Kong case as well.

Other lessons there, taking away – I think it’s important, just again from a mindset point of view, for us to understand that there’s a substantial body of people in the Chinese Communist Party elite and in the leadership, who believe actually that 1989 even, while very regrettable, bought them 25 years of stability and that Deng Xiaoping was correct and everybody ultimately came back.

So my own view is that if you had sustained extensive protest activity in Hong Kong, they would do what they feel they have to do in order to restore order. And I don’t think they would hesitate at all. They would obviously do their very best to avoid that as a worst case scenario. But I don’t think we should make any mistake that they would use force if necessary to restore order.

That said, my own view is that they can tolerate, you know, 3(,000) to 5,000 people showing up at an occasional government building on some irregular cycle for a very long time. And so my sense is that their approach will be to just let it burn out slowly over time. I don’t see any inclination on their part to change policy. And more importantly, I think it’s been interesting to watch how their approach is very much just to tie it all around (name inaudible), right, and let him maybe take the fall for it at some point in the future just like (name inaudible) did in the – in the last round.

So let me just stop there, and then we can dive into Q&A.

DAVID WERTIME: That’s great.

So broadly speaking, just to sort of synthesize and summarize what we’ve heard – and correct me if this isn’t representative – it’s perhaps appropriate that on the sort of grim day we’re getting a little bit of grim news. You know, the general sense seems to be Beijing is in the short term anyway getting away with it; that is to say, not being responsive to the underlying demands, whatever those may be, of protesters both in Taiwan but also in particular Hong Kong. We also – Beijing appears to, you know, believe that it’s getting away with it and be taking certain lessons from that.

You know, today, you know, news is sort of circulating among Hong Kong protesters about, you know, the imminent end of these protests, right. The police in Hong Kong have announced that Thursday at 9:00 a.m. Hong Kong time they plan to clear Admiralty, a busy business district, which is sort of now the big remaining site of protesters, as well as other sites after that. And you know, folks online who tweet about this stuff, protesters on the ground, journalists were talking about the imminent end, which I think would put it at about 77 days of this – of the so-called “occupation.”

So that’s all rather grim news. I think it’s – on one hand, you know, you can say that Beijing is emerging at least in the short term a winner. And yet if you look at some of these underlying fundaments from Beijing’s standpoint, I would think it’d be rather troubling. Of course the – you know, the reunification of the motherland is one of the tasks of the Chinese nation, as contemplated in the preamble of their own constitution.

But if you look at polling data – so this is something I pulled from some Foreign Policy articles recently – according to a poll on Taiwanese identity conducted by National Cung Hsing University in July, a record-breaking 60.4 percent of respondents said they only identified themselves as Taiwanese. And 32.7 percent think they’re both Chinese and Taiwanese.

A June 2014 poll published by the University of Hong Kong found that 67.3 percent of interviewees said that they were Hong Kongers or Hong Kongers in China. And a decade ago, less than 50 percent of those polled gave the same answer.

So in terms of that great task from a long-term perspective, perhaps Beijing doesn’t have so much cause to be optimistic.

What I’d like to start discussing a little bit is a couple broad themes that I think all three of you mentioned in your opening remarks. One is this youth divide. And what I’m particularly trying to get at is why is there this, I think, hard-to-deny divide between, you know, youth in particular sort of under 25, under 30; and everybody else, both in Taiwan and in Hong Kong? Is it that – and I’ll just sort of make these broad questions, and then you can pick them up as you see fit – is it an erroneous judgment by authorities, whether it’s in Taipei or Beijing, you know, basically that – maybe I shouldn’t say “an erroneous judgment” but an effort that – to kick the can down the road in particular when it comes to Hong Kong but it’s basically a check that’s going to come due – and I’m going to mix all these metaphors now – for those who are growing up right now, those who are, you know, starting to enter the labor market have to contemplate a possible future under mainland control or mainland sovereignty – is that what’s causing this underlying divide? Is it simply some more ephemeral but nonetheless important factor like unemployment right now?

Or is it – I think, Alan, as you mentioned – you know, the destabilization of definitions of certain crucial concepts? You know, what does democracy mean? What does good government mean? What does a good life mean, which I think is still a question that’s very much open, in mainland China in particular?

So I guess trying to drill down a little bit on that, you know, one thing I’d love to hear more about from any of you is this – you know, the role of media, obviously a subject near to my heart. You know, it’s something that appears to have been used as a tool to galvanize protesters, to galvanize youth and to kind of create a latent power that wouldn’t be there otherwise, right, the possibility of flash protests happening in Hong Kong at any given time.

You know, Sophie, I know that you focus on civil society a little bit. Can you talk about, you know, the – I guess the role of media in all of this? And I’m, you know, happy to –

SOPHIE RICHARDSON: Sure, it’s a big question.


SOPHIE RICHARDSON: I mean, one of the – I think one of the best side stories that’s gotten written was about, you know, the fact that the Western media has been – has covered this story has much as it has largely because there are so many journalists based in Hong Kong who have been effectively kicked out of the mainland or whose visas had not been renewed. And I don’t – I don’t think that necessarily affected the substance of what they were writing. I think it just meant that you have dozens of journalists who were very China-savvy sitting there to write this story.

But I think the – you know, the ability to share information, the ability to share really evocative photographs and many that had resonances to past protests, including Tiananmen, that I think really galvanized a lot of attention and I think made a movement that came together in a couple of different and represented some very, very, very different constituencies, a very sort of real-time event all over the world.

You know, and I think many people, including lots of people in Hong Kong, are accustomed to seeing, you know, the very pictures of efficiency and functionality and, you know, all of the things that make Hong Kong great – you know, to see these huge numbers of people that, you know, we’re accustomed to seeing, you know, for example the photographs of Victoria Park on June 4th each year. You know, but to see those numbers of people around the CITIC building or the aerial photographs of watching – or footage of watching police sort of squeeze in on the groups in Mong Kok, I think, made it all that much more real and visceral for people all over the world.

You know, at the same time, as – you know, as an organization that’s about documenting abuses, it also means that there’s that much more to pick through, cross-check; you know, analyze; ensure that, you know, you’ve got the facts and that you’re asking the right questions of the – (inaudible) – you know, about how, for example, the police have acted in a certain circumstance.

But you know, there’s – I think the coverage has been remarkable. It’ll be interesting to read what I hope people will write, you know, two months, six months, a year down the track about how the different groups work together, what their aspirations were and indeed what’s going to happen over the next two to four weeks.

DAVID WERTIME: And as you mentioned, you know, the – in particular the social web has the power to internationalize very quickly what might otherwise have been a local protest movement, surely something that Beijing does not enjoy seeing happen.

Now, I’d love for you to talk a little bit – because I know you’ve called on, for example, British authorities to, you know, take more of a stand in support of protesters. Seems that, you know, U.S. authorities have slowly taken a little bit more of one, but it was maybe not as strong as you would have liked. But of course there’s a double-edged sword there, which is that it also provides an argument to pro-Beijing folks to say, look, this is foreign interference, and to try to, you know, rally the masses that way.

Can you talk a little bit about that dynamic?

SOPHIE RICHARDSON: Yeah. I’m sure it won’t surprise you that, you know, we don’t have a huge amount of patience with the meddling foreign interference. I mean, look, don’t like foreign interference? Don’t sign international human rights covenants. I mean, that’s what they’re there for, so allow for external scrutiny of your human rights record. That’s why the whole system exists.

And so to sort of flick it aside, I think, is not a compelling argument. Also I just have to point out that, you know, the Chinese government willingly participates in a number of bilateral human rights dialogues. Actually the one with the EU took place yesterday in which, you know, Chinese diplomats show up and ask questions about the Roma, for example, and other human rights abuses inside other countries, which also, I think, doesn’t square very well with the “you may not ask questions about what goes on in other country” argument.

DAVID WERTIME: Do you think it works tactically, that argument?

SOPHIE RICHARDSON: I think it does with some. I mean, you know, Lucy (ph) will give you the – (inaudible) – on this if you want our friend from the British embassy here, but you know, when I have asked, for example, British diplomats if it stings or causes discomfort or affects how people – how British government officials or diplomats are going to respond when Chinese officials say to them, what do you guys do for democracy, you know, I have had people say, yeah, that really – it hurts, and it makes it harder to answer that question.

Some manage to do it well and robustly, as they should. But I think it does have the effect of embarrassing people or making them think, oh, maybe we don’t have a right to raise this concern.

I mean, the U.S.’s language or responses about Hong Kong, I think, have gotten – have gotten better. Arguably the strongest or most recent were from Assistant Secretary Russel at an SFRC hearing last week when he expressed the U.S.’s concern about, you know, whether autonomy was really being compromised in Hong Kong. And the president made a comment the other day – I’m going to not reformulate it correctly – but a broader concern about Xi Jinping and consolidating power and what the consequences were for human rights, among other issues.

But you know, I think especially for the U.S., which, you know, has certain – or claims a certain degree of an international role in promoting democracy, they were awfully slow out of the gate. It was – some of the language was very convoluted. I mean, if you read, for example, some of the State Department’s spokesperson’s questions (sic) to very straightforward questions from journalists – you know, a journalist saying, does the U.S. think it’s problematic for the Chinese government to vet candidates in Hong Kong, and the spokesperson’s answer is not “yes” – you know, I mean, dozens of exchanges like that over the course of September and October, and you think either you’re for democracy or you’re not, folks. It’s not a hard question.

DAVID WERTIME: And surely of this, rightly or wrongly, is linked to China’s growing economic heft. And I – and I kind of wanted to use that just as a transition point to ask you a question, Chris, which is – you know, you mentioned that Beijing might to some extent now see Hong Kong as just another city and, you know, the loss of that specialness is surely painful to folks inside of Hong Kong. But the numbers suggest, you know, from at least a GDP perspective, which is a prism through which surely Beijing is looking at this in part, that’s true, right; you know, Hong Kong’s GDP is now less than that of Shanghai or Beijing.


DAVID WERTIME: What interests me is the question of – and this can be at the outbreak of the protests or days in or now – where does Hong Kong – where does the Hong Kong question and in particular the Hong Kong protests rank on the surely very long list of matters that Xi Jinping and the standing committee have to worry about and that keep them up at night?

CHRISTOPHER JOHNSON: Yeah. I mean, it depends on the day, I think, but low is, I think, the general – the general concern, save – well, see, it depends on how you define that question. So in my own assessment, you know, as a macro issue, I would say low. But when it comes to this color revolution paranoia and these sort of things, I would say very high, you know. The trouble – you know, we will laugh at it and make fun of it and so on, but the reality is, they believe this stuff. They really do on the cultural revolution – or color revolutions. It’s not just stuff – (inaudible) – that they put out to distract people. They really do believe it, and I think Xi Jinping believes it very fundamentally, because we now see very senior officials on – in the Chinese system, many of whom are hardly knuckle-dragging ideologues – you know, Wong Yong (ph), people like this, who in very public settings make references to color revolutions. And I happen to find that very interesting because the reality is they’ve been talking about it since the first Ukraine crisis in 2004, I think. But it was not done publicly. You know, and it – I’m – maybe my background – it resonates a little bit more for me, but I find it very interesting that they now are so overt and public about using that term and in cooperation with the Russians and, you know, this whole angle.

And I think we make a mistake if we miss that piece. You know, I’m not suggesting we have to bow to it or anything like that, but rather if you want to understand their thinking you have to take this into account in terms of how they assess the situation.

The other piece, I think, is, again this notion that anything that detracts from national sovereignty, unity, et cetera surely puts at risk the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, right. And this is Xi Jinping’s mantra. So obviously it’s an issue for him that he’s focused on.

I mean, something I probably should have mentioned at the beginning that I think is important in this context are a couple of things, and it’s a mindset issue. You know, when the protests were really going and it was looking there like we might have a real problem in terms of use of force, I happened to be traveling overseas, and I was getting calls from journalists. And there was a lot of questions about, you know, what’s the potential for contagion in the mainland of these demonstrations and expecting an answer very high, which – in my assessment it’s not high at all. I mean, this is another mindset shift that’s happened. Your average Chinese does not see Hong Kong as the city on the hill anymore. You know, in fact I think many of them view Hong Kong as petulant children just like the leadership does.

And so in my assessment, that gives the leadership a tremendous amount of room to be able to push this policy line, you know, that they’ve been advocating because they have space with the public to be able to do that. So I think that’s something that’s very important, and it gives them a cushion, if you will, so that that paranoia, that concern that does – is there every day is mitigated.

ALAN ROMBERG: I think that’s true. But I also think you – as you were saying, the presidential effect – and I think, you know, you mentioned demonstrations, et cetera. Xinjiang immediately comes to mind.


ALAN ROMBERG: So, again, without validating that way of thinking, I think it is a factor when Beijing looks at this.


ALAN ROMBERG: And therefore also I think in terms of your point earlier that the leadership looks at Hong Kong as part of China; come on, folks, understand this –


ALAN ROMBERG: – and again without gainsaying the points about democratization and human rights and all there is to that, the fact is that this is a really critical issue for the leadership.

So I do think we need to understand –

CHRISTOPHER JOHNSON: And I think fundamentally as well, I mean, if you – if you just back it off a step and let’s go to an alternate universe where Xi Jinping is – does say, hey, Hong Kong, go crazy; choose your own people; you know, it’s fantastic you have full autonomy – but then he has to tell Xinjiang and (name inaudible) and these other places, sorry, you’re not mature enough to be making those kind of decisions. I mean, that’s a pretty tough nut to crack for them.

Now, they – it’s the corner they’ve painted themselves into, so I don’t know – I don’t have the most sympathy for it, but it’s mindset, you know, and I understand that. And I think we have to be mindful of it when we consider how they do their policy and reactions –

ALAN ROMBERG: And it’s an argument they make about Taiwan.


DAVID WERTIME: So that’s a question I had for you, Alan, when we’re talking about this contagion, so to speak, which is surely, you know, the way that Beijing sees it. You know, you say that the connections that have been drawn between Hong Kong and Taiwan are overblown, at least as regards how folks within Taiwan, you know, have been seeing this.

What about the view from Beijing? Do you think that Beijing is fearful that there’s going to be – you know, I mean, we’ve already seen the Sunflower Movement, of course. But do they worry that it’s going to redound again within Taiwan or even that the elections were in some way related from their standpoint?

And one reason I ask that is that they actually did – you know, Beijing or whoever’s making these orders did censor mentions of the link or the potential link between the Hong Kong protests and the Taiwan election results, which shows at least something about what they’re thinking even if it’s not real.

ALAN ROMBERG: Yeah, I don’t have a real answer for that, because I don’t know. But I can imagine that they see this. And I think that there are – there are communication between some people in Taiwan and some people in Hong Kong. And I don’t think one should say that doesn’t exist. And their – I think their inclination would be to maybe not blow it up entirely but at least see it as a very worrisome kind of situation for them.

I mean, one of the things too is that – and I had actually a question for Chris on this. On the “one country, two systems,” Xi Jinping in – I think it was even the day the demonstrations may have started in Hong Kong, but it was before they had gotten under way – in meeting with a pro-unification group from Taiwan dragged out the “one country, two systems” as the guiding principle along with peaceful reunification for policy toward Taiwan.

And if that is the case – and I – they have never dropped it; they usually don’t emphasize it because it doesn’t have a great market in Taiwan – but how do you think that the leadership in Beijing sees the impact and the implication of what’s happening in Hong Kong for their ability to sell “one country, two systems” in Taiwan?

CHRISTOPHER JOHNSON: I think it’s one of those where, you know, the – as is so often the case with the way that the Chinese think about things, the leadership thinks about things, it’s – there’s a great line from the TV series “Seinfeld,” right, where George Costanza says: It’s only a lie if you don’t believe it. (Laughter.) And I think that, you know, oftentimes the rationalizations they have to go through, you know, to make themselves believe this stuff is quite striking.

I do – the – I can understand their approach toward Hong Kong. The piece that I can’t get right is how can they be so blind to the implications for Taiwan? That’s the one that I can’t get my hands around.

And I’ll be a little more emphatic than you were. I think absolutely they will conclude, whether it’s true or not, that that whole process had some effect on the – on the local elections. I mean, I think Beijing is always quick to see things through the lens of cross-strait or whatever when in fact these elections are very much about local issues and so on.

But it does seem to me as a – as a relative novice on Taiwan issues that this is the gift that keeps on giving for the DPP, right. You know, I mean, they’ve been saying for all these years that “one country, two systems” is not worth the paper it’s written on and so on. And this seems to be a pretty good – pretty good indicator of that. So my sense is that they don’t want to – they don’t want to go there.

On why Xi Jinping himself raised the formulation, I – my sense is this is yet another example just like his first meeting with (name inaudible), where he said, this can’t go on forever, right, he just says what he thinks. And the Taiwan people are cringing, you know, in the – in the back. I heard from several people that they all thought that was a mistake, you know, to be using that formulation.

But you know, he’s the boss, and he does what he thinks.

DAVID WERTIME: So it seems like there’s a – there’s a little bit of a – well, there’s several vicious cycles operating here or at least several cycles, depending on your viewpoint. You know, there’s this Beijing notion that, you know, a single spark can set the prairie ablaze and that if you have this uprising and this movement in one place, it can start hopping around the map, which is probably terrifying to them. And because of that, that makes each one of these movements particularly newsworthy, raising the fears of Western interference and transmitting that – this information more quickly than it might otherwise be.

And you’ve also got Beijing’s reaction to the sort of – whatever demand signals it’s getting as regards its – you know, its approach, “one country, two systems,” et cetera, where, you know, seeming complicity or -pliance from locals and from foreign governments might send the message that they can get away with it. But if you see these movements around the map, that also gives Beijing a rationale to tighten the reins.

So my question is, are we talking about some kind of inevitability at least in the near term in the way that Beijing is going to react? I mean, under Xi Jinping, we are starting to get a sense of who he is and what his priorities are. But is there some way to kind of break out from the path that we appear to be on? And by “we” I mean us in the globe when we look at greater China. Or is there anything that could change this equation?

SOPHIE RICHARDSON: How much time do we have? (Laughter.) I –

CHRISTOPHER JOHNSON: I’ve got an idea, but go ahead.

SOPHIE RICHARDSON: You first. Go ahead.

CHRISTOPHER JOHNSON: OK. I mean, the short answer, I think, from the Chinese side is no. And I think there’s a lot of stuff wrapped up in here. I mean, you know, several of Xi Jinping’s speeches on these issues are very interesting. And I think that you have this strange mix of, you know, over-weaning hubris and over-weaning insecurity at the same time, you know, which is usually a bad combo. And my sense is that, you know, in terms of the belief in the trajectory and in pace and sustainability of China’s rise and all that, this leadership feels this much more strongly, you know, than its – than its predecessors and so on.

I also think that in particular they see this decade as a particularly important and unusual decade, in particular because, you know, they see out at 2020 this so-called period of strategic opportunity is beginning to – or may change. One way or the other, they haven’t evaluated it.

But more importantly, I think, right now is this whole issue of they realize they’re at a major inflection point with regard to the economy. If these reforms don’t work, it – the show’s over, you know, and they know that. And I think they feel that existential piece very, very strongly. And they’re trying to do things they’ve never done before. And that just makes them, you know, doubly, triply – however many times you want to say it – paranoid about these other issues, especially the stability pieces.

I’m not as convinced, just as a general point, that Xi Jinping sees these connections among what happens in Hong Kong, what happens in Xinjiang. You know, I think the previous leaderships felt that more strongly. I think – you know, his sense of – I think – you know, doesn’t mean he’s not concerned about them. I’m just not sure he sees the linkage. There’s been some stuff that has been put out not just by him but by Mung Jin Xu (ph) on the security side and some other people that suggest to me that they see these more as breakable problems. But they’re not – obviously very deeply concerned about it. So I don’t see any movement coming from their side.

And then also there’s this notion that we’re all confronting that no major government, from what I’ve seen has been able to crack the code on, which is this disposition from the Chinese that, you know, in effect we don’t have to do that anymore, you know, things like human rights releases and – before summits and, you know, these sort of things. And so it suggests that the whole cadence of interacting with them on these issues needs to change. And how do you do that? You know, how do you go about doing that?

You might have some thoughts –

SOPHIE RICHARDSON: Yeah, I agree with most of that. I think the – I come down mostly on the side of no, partly because I think what we see in terms of the Chinese government’s perception of and reaction to certain kinds of problems through increasingly security-oriented lens and sort of this endless expansion of the domestic security apparatus and the perception – again, I don’t ratify this, but I think a perception of certain kinds of problems as being threats to national security is extremely problematic. And there just seems to be no boundary on the horizon for that sense of what the world looks like and how to respond to it.

You know, I think what changes are – you know, to the extent that there’s a point of optimism or what – you know, as we – as we try to persuade the outside world to be concerned and react in different ways, I think we watch the demonstrations in Hong Kong – and I found myself thinking again and again about, you know, literature about opposition movements and the concept of a loyal opposition, you know, alongside these incredibly shrill insistences about loving China and loving Hong Kong, you know, what that meant to the Chinese Communist Party.

I mean, look, I love China, and I love Hong Kong. You know, and the –

DAVID WERTIME: You should run for chief executive. (Laughter.)

SOPHIE RICHARDSON: I will not insist that people make more than 1,800 bucks a month in order to be able to vote as (name inaudible) did. You know, I think if you look at, you know, some of the people who’ve been very eloquent critics of the Chinese government or if you look at these students or some of, you know, the interests they were representing, on the one hand you think to yourself, what government in the world would not love to have this – (inaudible) – right. I mean, it’s peaceful. It’s constructive. It’s, you know, a lot of the suggestions that are offered that were very policy-oriented. I mean, in some – on some levels, I find it sort of wonderfully wonkish. And you would think that the government would really, you know, embrace that and think, OK, we’re in a point in our own history where we can be reasonably confident we’re not facing existential threats, you know, the economy is problematic but we’re at a much better point than we’ve been at any point in recent memory; perhaps we can take on some of this.

I think it’s unfortunate that the government isn’t ready to do that. I think it’s very much in the rest of the world’s interests to get acquainted with those other voices and the perspectives they represent and the ideas that they have as we all think about different ways of doing things inside the country that don’t just perpetuate a system that just crushes any sort of resistance and won’t really accommodate some of the kinds of change that frankly are just as salient, you know, to the protection of human rights as an abstract concept as they are to making the economy function better.

DAVID WERTIME: I’d love to open the floor up to questions. We’ve got about 15 minutes left. Anyone like to weigh in?

Yes, sir.

Q: Why not a Hong Kongese ask the first question. (Laughter.) I would like (raise ?) the issue to a higher, more international level, which I think both the U.K. and the U.S. have certain interests in. Since the bigger issue in Hong Kong, which I think concerns U.K. and U.S. more is whether the Chinese will honor its commitment under the international treaties, there was a (great ?) event took place, which is were – breaking news told by the chairman of the U.K.’s house foreign affairs committee, who spoke on the parliament during – (inaudible) – that a Chinese official has told him that the so-called (June ?) declaration is no longer effective after the changeover.

CHRISTOPHER JOHNSON: (Off mic) – yeah.

Q: For more than a week, we don’t see any denial from the China side. (Inaudible) – nothing talk about it. That issue is going very big around the Chinese youngsters – I mean Hong Kong youngsters. And this is the one issue, whether China will honor its commitment, since all Hong Kongese think that this is a commitment that bind by the U.K. and the Chinese as well.

The other thing is, according to the basic law, Hong Kong people should have a so-called genuine universal suffrage. But China will give you a universal suffrage, but their own version. You can choose either (name inaudible) A, B, or C, but not your own choice. But they said this was a true democracy, this is a true universal suffrage.

So I’m not sure how the Western role interpret on the Chinese response on its international commitments concerning Hong Kong. Would the Hong Kong issue getting – have a bigger platform, if the U.K. and the U.S. (paying ?) it from the more international perspective?

DAVID WERTIME: So that’s certainly very interesting if that indeed is the case. I had not heard that China was – that Beijing was disavowing the ’84 declaration, which seems pretty clearly written to cover future events following a handover. Well, thank you. I don’t know if there’s sort of a question in there, but it’s a very interesting piece of information.

I know that you had your hand up. Would you like to ask a question?

Q: Thank you, more to offer a comment, if I may, from a British government point of view, because I’m here as a representative of the British embassy. And obviously lots of this is extremely relevant to the debate we’re having in the U.K. among parliamentarians, as you just mentioned.

And going back to the point that you asked about foreign interference, I think we’d agree with Sophie’s point that, you know, international relations involves discussion about international issues, particularly between countries which have signed up to international treaties or signed up to international standards. And China has long said that it’s aiming to ratify the ICCPR, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. So you can’t really have it both ways – (inaudible) – one government for not having sufficiently implemented reforms and then not acknowledging that, you know, that’s something that – which still takes further work.

Now – and we’ve said in our statements on Hong Kong that we hope to see further progress there, but we’ve been very wary of the sort of foreign-forces accusation undermining those who are actually sort of undertaking direct action in Hong Kong, because from what we can see, this is a genuinely Hong Kong led movement. As Chris was saying, it encompasses a wide variety of sort of social demographics. We don’t know enough yet about who’s in there, what they care about, what’s driving this, it seems to us. But though it’s a Hong Kong led thing, it’s the people of Hong Kong. And what we’ve said about this is we want to see some kind of outcome that reflects the wishes and aspirations of the people of Hong Kong. We’re not imposing a model. That’s for – that’s for them to develop.

We still hope within the terms of the decision that we might actually see some future development, which takes us closer to what they would like to see. And it’d be interesting to hear the panel’s views on how that might work out, but just kind of (feeding ?) that thought on foreign interference.

On the joint declaration, our view is that, you know, legally we are still a signatory. That doesn’t have an expiration date. (Laughter.) We consider ourselves to have responsibility in (police ?) terms, in legal terms, in moral terms. This is an issue which remains close to the heart of many parliamentarians and of senior government ministers in the U.K. So it’s not a conversation that’s going to go away from our perspective.

DAVID WERTIME: Thank you. Other questions?

Yes, sir.

Q: Going back partly to Alan’s earlier point about the younger generation in Taiwan, I mean, the Western stereotype is that the Chinese always take the long view, but they have – don’t seem to be in this case. They have politicized an entire generation in Hong Kong by what they’re – by what they’re doing. Maybe it fits into some of what Chris has been saying that they’re more worried – they’re not worried about the long view; they’re worried about getting to 2020 OK and, you know, what happens to young Hong Kongers 30 years from now is less of a concern.

How do you see the difference between the way they play the long game versus the short game?

DAVID WERTIME: It’s a Hong Kong question.

CHRISTOPHER JOHNSON: It’s on me? OK. You know, look, I would say that my sense of it is that they’re very focused on the short play right now. They certainly are thinking about the longer-term consequences, but it doesn’t seem – you know, you don’t see them, for example, having work conferences on – you know, the two-day work conference on the issue that would suggest that they’re thinking about those longer-term implications and so on.

So my own sense is that this is an area where they do seem to be very, you know, much looking at the immediate consequences. I think this is another one of those areas where, though, I think they’re having difficulty admitting to themselves they have a problem, right. On the Taiwan piece and now on the Hong Kong piece, this whole – not only may we have a democracy or in the case of Taiwan, you know, mainlander versus ethnic Taiwanese problem; we may have a generational or demographic problem that’s very severe. I think they’re – when you talk to people, my sense is they know that’s there, that it’s a possibility. They haven’t yet grouped themselves, you know, to figure out how to deal with it.

That’s my sense.

ALAN ROMBERG: With regard to Taiwan specifically, I think that they are looking at both, Mike. I think they’re worried about what’s going to happen between now and 2016 and they’re trying to figure out how to manage that. But they also have – I think it’s distinct from some other problems. They have tended to take a patient view. I don’t think that really has been abandoned. You know, it came, I guess, largely out of Hu Jintao, but even Jiang Zemin you could see this.

So I don’t think it’s an either/or situation –

MR. : No, I don’t either.

ALAN ROMBERG: – at least in that instance.


Q: Thank you. Is there another part of both the youth and those who have kind of come into their positions within the government of the SAR of Hong Kong who also – who see China’s assertion of greater power and standing in the international arena as attractive and thus, you know, feel that it’s more necessary for them to hitch their own careers to rising China?

CHRISTOPHER JOHNSON: I mean – go ahead, please.

SOPHIE RICHARDSON: I would say yes. I mean, one of the wonderful things about Hong Kong is that people have lots of different views at all ends of the political spectrum. I think there are people who see, you know, reintegration with the mainland as having been an incredibly positive political, historical, economic, emotional moment.

But at the other end of the spectrum, I think you see people who are – I forget which of you made this point – who are – maybe David, you were citing some of the poll results about people who increasingly identify themselves quite specifically as Hong Kongers and not as Chinese at least in the PRC political sense. You know, I think there are people who believe that this is the hand they’ve been dealt and they’ve got to play it.

But I – to go back to the long-term/short-term question, just to say that I think the very sort of tactical short-term nature often, you know, does not work very well with kind of the longer-term goals because I think Beijing winds up missing certain critical signals, you know, but most especially or most notably, you know, the growing frustration in Hong Kong about the proposed patriotic education campaign or some of these very contentious issues about urban planning or about migration from the mainland into Hong Kong.

And I think the accumulation of those frustrations was just sort of missed essentially because there wasn’t an immediate problem now.

CHRISTOPHER JOHNSON: Right. Right. No, I think that’s – I think that’s right. I mean, I think I would also probably separate, you know, people serving in the Hong Kong government from the broader populace in terms of how they see that whole hitch-wagon thing. You know, the civil service culture, while denuded somewhat there is still pretty potent. And then these people tend to think of themselves as Hong Kong government officials first and, you know, SAR or whatever officials second. So –

DAVID WERTIME: We’ve got time for about maybe one more question. We’ve so far received all of our questions from the right side of the audience. (Laughter.)

(Cross talk.)

DAVID WERTIME: So in the spirit of bipartisanship, I want to look – I’m looking over here.

Yes, you, sir.

Q: Hi, my name’s Nick Weinstein. I work at the Hudson Institute. My question is for Mr. Romberg. I was wondering – you said that the Hong Kong protests only had a small effect on the regional elections at – in Taiwan. I was wondering what that – what that small effect was and why you think it’s small.

ALAN ROMBERG: I – first of all, I don’t think there was a big effect, so it’s a little hard to say. But I think that – I think that some students, you know, took heart from the activism of counterparts in Hong Kong, but I – they – basically they had their own homegrown activism that went back to the spring. So I don’t think they particularly said, oh, gee, you know, look what Hong Kong’s doing and we should follow their lead.

So I think, again, they admired the – I think many people in Taiwan admired the movement for democracy. But I don’t think it – they looked at the situation and said sort of, well, gee, therefore we also – they have democracy, largely speaking. And to the extent they feel that their democracy is circumscribed not by Beijing but by the way the system in Taiwan may be working – and some complain about that – that’s a Taiwan issue. I don’t think that transfers across from Hong Kong issues.

So I just don’t – again, I think that the relevance in the minds of people in Taiwan, the relevance of Hong Kong – it’s not that it’s not there, but it’s just not very prominent. They’ve got their own very strong set of issues and beliefs and so on and problems to be working on. And I think that’s what’s driving them, not some lesson to be learned from what’s happening in Hong Kong except, as I said before, if you want to look at “one country, two systems,” not for us, thank you very much.

DAVID WERTIME: I think we’ve got a relatively hard stop time. We might have time for one more short question. Did I see a hand up over there earlier?

ALAN ROMBERG: If not, I’ll ask a question.


SOPHIE RICHARDSON: (Off mic) – share an observation.


DAVID WERTIME: Go right ahead.

ALAN ROMBERG: This identity issue that you originally raised – I’m wondering in Hong Kong what does it mean to identify as a Hong Konger. My sense in Taiwan is that the notion of identifying as a quote “Taiwaneran (ph) – Taiwanese” has evolved over time. I don’t think it necessarily means you’re anti-China, right. But you know, I was born in Taiwan, I grew up in Taiwan, my family’s from Taiwan. I’m not French. So – but I wonder in Hong Kong, does it have more of a negative implication of –


ALAN ROMBERG: – because Hong Kong is part of the People’s Republic of China than that? I don’t know. It’s a genuine question.

CHRISTOPHER JOHNSON: I don’t think so, but that’s my own view. That’s a tough one to answer.

SOPHIE RICHARDSON: I think those are some anthropology dissertations. Well, but also some more research to be done about what specifically people mean and what distinctions they’re making. I mean, this is – this is a – something we snipe at governments about all the time, using the term “China” to mean – what they really mean is the Chinese government when they say “China” as if to suggest, you know, the Chinese government actually somehow legitimately claims to represent lots of people’s views as opposed to talking about people in China, whose views are different.

But I was going to make an observation. The entire time we’ve been sitting here talking, we’ve barely said anything at all about the Hong Kong government itself and its role or lack thereof in what’s happened of late, which I think is perhaps something of a statement in and of itself.

DAVID WERTIME: Where do – just maybe for 30 seconds, 60 seconds, what do you think the – Hong Kong’s government’s role has been? And how much, you know, control has Beijing been exercising from behind the scenes?

SOPHIE RICHARDSON: Well, I think Beijing has been exercising lots of control. I think, you know, when Leung has gone out in public and sort of spoken off-the-cuff, it has gone extremely badly. I mean, consistent frankly with the previous chief executives who were chosen, I think that’s part of the problem. You know – I mean, it’s a much longer conversation to have about the police and the use of force and who is accountable for that and whether the Hong Kong government has really sufficiently grappled with that and been accountable.

But I think it’s also just astonishing how little effort was – has been made by people in the Hong Kong government to go out and talk to the demonstrators. How hard was that to do? Not even a little. They did it once. It was incredibly superficial. You know – you know, I think again it’s part of the tradition in Hong Kong that you debate, that people get to be part of these discussions, that – you know, that while people have wildly divergent political views that there’s some respect for the idea of sitting down and having a conversation about them. And I think the fact that there’s been so little of that is peculiar and disturbing.

DAVID WERTIME: And having a government with the confidence to listen and to participate in open debate. And on that note, I’d like to thank everyone here – (laughter) – is the best transition I could muster. Thank you to all of our speakers. (Applause.) This was a fascinating discussion about a really complex topic.

So thank you all for coming.