Ex-Hong Kong journalists urge Taiwanese to cherish voting rights

Like many of his colleagues in the Hong Kong press, A-Chieh [a pseudonym] left the city after Beijing’s National Security Law made reporting freely a potentially illegal act for journalists.

The 1997 Basic Law had promised Hong Kong universal suffrage for both Chief Executive and Legislative Council elections. But hopes for a free and fair vote have been almost extinguished as China, led by Xi Jinping (習近平), incrementally turned governance in the city into a closed shop open only to Beijing-approved candidates.

“We used to think the police would never shoot tear gas or open fire on us [during pro-democracy protests]. We used to think there would always be a chance to vote,” said A-Chieh, who now resides temporarily in Taiwan as a freelance journalist.

The same has been true for Hong Kong’s press. Fearing prosecution under the National Security Law, which was introduced in 2020, nearly all independent media in the city has opted to shutter or hand over ownership to pro-government owners.

A-Chieh now finds himself amid a much different political scene. Campaigning is in full swing for Taiwan’s “nine-in-one” elections on Nov. 26, which will see voters choose 11,023 local government officials, including mayors, magistrates, and city councilors.

Drawing on the experience of Hong Kong, A-Chieh warns that complacency could jeopardize Taiwan’s democracy. “[The voters] are not as involved in elections as before,” A-Chieh said, urging the people of Taiwan to “cherish each ballot cast as if it were their last.”

China has been able to dismantle a system that had promised Hong Kongers universal suffrage and press freedom in part due to public apathy and a too-late realization of the importance of voting, A-Chieh said.

“In the past, people in Hong Kong were not enthusiastic about elections, with voter turnout averaging as low as about 40 percent. It was not until 2019 that Hong Kong had a record 71 percent turnout — but it was too late. Beijing overhauled the electoral system in 2021, and it became meaningless to cast a ballot,” A-Chieh said.

Having witnessed Beijing erase political rights in Hong Kong, A-Chieh said people in Taiwan seemed to be “indifferent to the looming threat” posed by China.

“I feel like people don’t talk about Chinese threat much in this year’s elections and go about their day as usual,” he said. “[The voters] are not as involved in elections as before.”

Now packed with hardliners and Xi loyalists, the government in Beijing signaled it would take a tougher stance on Taiwan at the Chinese Communist Party’s 20th Party Congress in October.

In light of this, A-Chieh said there should be a serious discussion among election candidates and voters on how to deal with the escalating pressure.

The Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) framing of the elections as a vote to “resist China, protect Taiwan” seemed to have failed to galvanize the public, he said.

In a separate interview with CNA on Nov. 17, a former Hong Kong journalist, who gave her name as Miss Huang, said there used to be extensive media coverage of Taiwan’s elections in Hong Kong in the past, but that was not the case this year.

Since the introduction of the National Security Law, media outlets in Hong Kong have “refrained from reporting political news about Taiwan ever since, let alone the elections,” said Huang, who moved to Taiwan several years ago.

This year’s vote contrasts starkly with Taiwan’s January 2020 presidential election, which Huang said drew large numbers of Hong Kong tourists keen to observe democracy in action.

However, Huang said she didn’t expect to see many Hong Kongers travel to Taiwan to witness the elections this year, as civil society groups and pro-democracy activists have seen their activities curtailed by the National Security Law.

Nevertheless, many people in Hong Kong will still be closely watching this year’s elections in Taiwan.

“I often got asked by my friends in Hong Kong about the elections. We wished people in Taiwan would cherish the right to vote,” Huang said.


Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel