A Push for Unity Widens Gaps Taiwanese Say Hong Kong's Loss of Freedom Gives Them Little Faith inChina's Reunification Bid

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Since Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui proposed his "two states" formula for ties with the Chinese mainland in July, fissures within "cultural greater China," which includes ethnically linked Taiwan, China, and Hong Kong, have deepened.

In the 1980s, Beijing's economic and political liberalization opened China's doors to long-banned family visits and investment from Taiwan and Hong Kong. At the time, scholars in all three regions predicted that the links with a reforming mainland could evolve into a Democratic Federation of Greater China.

But few Taiwanese now say they support a political union with the Communist-ruled mainland, and many say Hong Kong's slow-motion loss of freedom gives them little confidence in Beijing's "one country, two systems" proposal for reunification.

In seeking to re-create the Chinese Empire, which once stretched from Hong Kong in the south to Tibet in the west and Taiwan to the east, Beijing's standing offer to Taiwan is a reunification deal similar to Hong Kong's. China often matches its "carrot" of autonomy for Taiwan with the "stick" of threats of an armed invasion if the island veers toward independence. But neither tactic seems to be persuading Taiwan to join a Chinese union.

In the closing days of the 1949 Chinese civil war, millions of mainlanders crowded onto Taiwan-bound ships as the Red Army swept across China. Most sought a political haven from the excesses of Communist rule.

The defeated Nationalist Party for years ruled Taiwan with an iron fist. Yet the island has rapidly moved toward democracy in the last decade, marked by a freewheeling press, open and fair presidential elections, and legal protections for basic rights modeled after the US system.

"The dictatorship of Taiwan's past is only a distant memory," says a young filmmaker in Taipei. "Today, we elect our own president, do whatever we want politically, and speak out on any issue that interests us," she says."Why should we move backward like Hong Kong has in order to reunite" with China?

When China recovered Hong Kong two years ago, it promised the territory that the basic, British-inspired rights of the people would not be curtailed.

Under the "one country, two systems" formula, China guaranteed Hong Kong would keep its legal and social autonomy, in effect protecting the capitalist enclave from Communist rule and a state takeover of businesses.

But a tightening noose around Hong Kong and periodic military maneuvers aimed at intimidating Taiwan have delayed if not destroyed the peaceful creation of a political Greater China.

In the last two years, says Hong Kong human rights activist Frank Lu, "There has been a steady erosion of both democracy and human rights." Beijing this summer overturned a decision of Hong Kong's highest court, calling into question the enclave's judicial independence. …