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HONG KONG — At the very moment that the world is captivated with the promise of China rising economically, China itself has provided two vivid examples of the danger that it is plunging politically.

In Hong Kong, Beijing is on the brink of fatally undermining the predictable rule of law, one of the very qualities that makes this “Asian World City” of potentially great value to Beijing.

In Taiwan, Beijing is on the brink of fatally undermining future prospects for the difficult task of national reunification at the very moment that the process could be gathering positive momentum.

In Hong Kong, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is ostensibly being pragmatic when it would gain far more by being principled in favor of “one country, two systems.” In Taiwan, meanwhile, it is sticking to its long-standing fixed principles when it would gain far more by being truly pragmatic.

The speedy unanimous passage of China’s antisecession law on Monday at the annual session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) not merely increased tension across the Taiwan Strait but also illustrated the vagaries of China’s political system. These can be summarized by the 10 “no’s”:

Prior to the law’s passage, there was no basic information and no readily available advanced text of the draft law. It is possible that many NPC delegates voted for it without having seen the draft bill.

So there was no debate, no dissent, no controversy. The only public information the CCP felt obliged to provide prior to passage were official “explanations” of the draft law, provided by NPC Standing Committee vice chairman Wang Zhaoguo. The law distinguishes “Taiwanese compatriots” from “Taiwan independence forces,” but gives no definitions of these or other political terms.

In a nutshell, the new law is an exercise in nationalist wish fulfillment. As such, there is no criticism. Additionally, no controversial questions were posed such as: Will the law strengthen Taiwan independence forces rather than diminish them?

There is no relevant historical perspective. Taiwan is no longer fighting the Chinese civil war; it has moved on — and China must do likewise if reunification is to get anywhere. As underscored by Article 3 of the law, “the Taiwan question is a leftover from China’s civil war of the late 1940s.” The new law stresses the defeat of Taiwan rather than how to win it over.

Wang’s speech stressed “the thoughts of three generations of Chinese central collective leadership, particularly those of Comrade Deng Xiaoping and Comrade Jiang Zemin on resolving the Taiwan question . . . have provided clear guidance and a policy basis for this legislation.” Why is there no mention of Mao Zedong?

When interviewed by Edgar Snow in 1936, Mao pragmatically conceded that Taiwan, like Korea, could become independent once the Japanese were defeated. In the 1950s, Mao pragmatically insisted that Taiwan’s possession of the Quemoy and Matsu islands linked Taiwan to one China. And in the mid-1970s, near the end of his life, Mao conceded that the full reunification of China might take 100 years and required patience.

Thus the most important negative of all regarding reunification efforts today is that there is no pragmatism. An impatient CCP is too concerned with riding the nationalist tiger in the cause of survival of the one-party state.

Yet, present circumstances favor a pragmatic approach. Despite political differences, economic integration between Taiwan and the mainland has gathered momentum. Taiwan has invested up to $100 billion in manufacturing on the mainland, thereby making a major contribution to China’s industrialization. It has been able to do this because, since 1949, Taiwan has existed separately from the mainland and has, in the last two decades, adopted a completely different political structure.

Taiwan can benefit China economically in many ways. But the CCP risks destroying these possibilities simply because it treats Taiwan as if it were still a renegade province. The political imagination capable of bridging the Taiwan Strait in 2005 simply does not exist.

As for Hong Kong, the current CCP leadership has belatedly accepted that the third-generation CCP leadership was wrong to naively assume in 1997 that since Hong Kong’s raison d’etre is business, a businessman was the best person to run Hong Kong. It has also recognized that Jiang Zemin was wrong to insist that the pro-Beijing faction in Hong Kong unanimously support Tung Chee-hwa for a second term as Hong Kong’s chief executive in 2002.

It does show signs of ceasing to regard Hong Kong merely as the despicable creation of the wicked British colonialists. Thus Sir Donald Tsang, although a Knight of the British Empire and a devout member of the nonofficial (to China) Roman Catholic Church, is now considered as probably possessing the qualities needed by a chief executive to keep the rambunctious former colony in check.

But before Tung resigned last week, a crisis arose when former Foreign Minister (now State Councilor) Tang Jiaxuan and elderly Basic Law experts in Beijing indicated that the next chief executive (CE) would be initially “elected” for a two-year term until 2007. Hong Kong’s Basic Law and election laws clearly state that all CE elections are for five-year terms.

The “experts” explained that a 2-year term would be consistent with how term limits are implemented by the CCP in China and that this was the “legislative intent” of the Basic Law drafters. In China, such intent changes laws.

The two-year term could be validated by a NPC Standing Committee “interpretation” similar to the one last year stating that universal suffrage would not be introduced in 2007 and 2008. This would illustrate that the rule of law in Hong Kong was not just dying — but already dead.

Taiwan faces the threat of annexation, while Hong Kong faces the threat of the end of the rule of law. In seeking total control, China prohibits true autonomy in both cases.

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