Xi Jinping’s crackdown in Hong Kong has backfired in Taiwan

CHINESE PRESIDENT Xi Jinping has suffered the most painful consequence yet of his misguided crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong: the landslide reelection Saturday of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who flatly rejects reunification with China. Ms. Tsai was considered politically dead a year ago after her party suffered a crushing loss in local elections. But…

Xi Jinping’s crackdown in Hong Kong has backfired in Taiwan

CHINESE PRESIDENT Xi Jinping has suffered the most painful consequence yet of his misguided crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong: the landslide reelection Saturday of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who flatly rejects reunification with China. Ms. Tsai was considered politically dead a year ago after her party suffered a crushing loss in local elections. But Mr. Xi revived her with his uncompromising response to last year’s mass demonstrations in Hong Kong, and his insistence that the “one country, two systems” formula applied to Hong Kong when it rejoined the mainland be accepted by Taiwan.

Ms. Tsai shrewdly founded her campaign on rejecting Hong Kong’s fate, telling voters that their choice was between democracy and dictatorship. Her campaign ads dwelt on scenes of Hong Kongers fleeing police repression. “Young people in Hong Kong have used their lives and blood and tears to show us that ‘one country, two systems’ is not possible,” she told a closing rally in Taipei.

The results were decisive: Ms. Tsai was reelected with 57 percent of the vote in a three-way race, collecting a record 8 million ballots amid a stunning 74 percent turnout. Her opponent, populist mayor Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang party, was tagged with the pro-China label despite trying to distance himself from the “one country, two systems” formula.

A majority of Taiwanese now lean toward independence, though most also favor Ms. Tsai’s policy of preserving the current status quo under which Taiwan does not formally claim to be a separate nation. Meanwhile, Mr. Xi has proved in the past six months that “one country, two systems” is not a workable formula. Rather than respect Hong Kong’s rule of law, his appointees there have ridden roughshod over it; rather than deliver on the promise of democratic elections, they have doubled down on the hugely unpopular chief executive, Carrie Lam.

Ms. Tsai, whose party also won a legislative majority, will now be free to press on with the sensible economic reforms she pursued during her first term, which included reducing Taiwan’s economic dependence on China. Thanks in part to the U.S.-China trade war, Taiwanese businesses have been pulling back from the mainland and reinvesting at home or in Southeast Asia. That means that the Xi regime, which has already restricted tourism and other cross-border exchanges, has less room to pressure the Tsai government. Having flinched from the overt use of force in Hong Kong, Mr. Xi is unlikely to pursue Beijing’s occasional threats to invade Taiwan.

The regime is nevertheless signaling a hard-line reaction to Ms. Tsai’s reelection. In Hong Kong, authorities on Sunday prohibited the entry of Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth, who had planned to present the organization’s annual report in the city. This again shows their contempt for their own promise to let Hong Kong live under its own rules, which guarantee freedom of expression. Yet some Chinese leaders must recognize that Mr. Xi’s approach to Taiwan and Hong Kong has backfired. Simple logic would suggest that more of Mr. Xi’s authoritarian intolerance will simply bring about more reverses.

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