The imposition of a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong has sent chills through Taiwan, deepening fears that Beijing will focus next on seizing the democratic self-ruled island.
China and Taiwan split in 1949 after nationalist forces lost a civil war to Mao Zedong’s communists, fleeing to the island which Beijing has since vowed to seize one day, by force if necessary.
“The law makes me dislike China even more,” 18-year-old student Sylvia Chang told AFP, walking through National Taiwan University in Taipei.
“They had promised 50 years unchanged for Hong Kong but they are getting all the more heavy-handed… I am worried Hong Kong today could be Taiwan tomorrow.”
Over the years China has used a mixture of threats and inducements, including a promise Taiwan could have the “One Country, Two Systems” model that governs Hong Kong, supposedly guaranteeing key civil liberties and a degree of autonomy for 50 years after the city’s 1997 handover.
Both Taiwan’s two largest political parties long ago rejected the offer, and the new security law has incinerated what little remaining faith many Taiwanese may have had in Beijing’s outreach.
Some now fear even transiting through Hong Kong, worried that their social media profiles could see them open to prosecution under the legislation.
The law “makes China look so bad, distancing themselves even further from Hong Kongers, not to mention people across the strait in Taiwan”, Alexander Huang, a political analyst at Tamkang University in Taipei, told AFP.
– ‘Hong Kong today, Taiwan tomorrow’ –
Beijing has taken an especially hard line towards Taiwan since the 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), ramping up military, economic and diplomatic pressure.
Tsai views Taiwan as a de facto independent nation and not part of “one China”.
But the pressure campaign has done little to endear China to Taiwan’s 23 million people.
In January, Tsai won a second term with a historic landslide and polls consistently show a growing distrust of China.
A record 67 percent now self-identify as “Taiwanese” instead of either Taiwanese-Chinese or Chinese — a ten percent increase on the year before — according to a routine poll conducted by the National Chengchi University.
In 1992, that figure was just 18 percent.