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China is cracking down on the protest movement in Hong Kong, and that is making Taiwan nervous. Chinese leaders have long hoped to bring Taiwan under their control, but officials in Taiwan are intent on preventing that and warning the world that their democracy is now in jeopardy. NPR's Julie McCarthy has more.
JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Spiraling chaos is enveloping Hong Kong over demands that China stop eroding its democratic freedoms.
(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD PROTESTING)
MCCARTHY: Protesters say Beijing and its loyalists and the government of Hong Kong have broken the promise of semi-autonomy for Hong Kong, the promise of one country, China, and two systems, the Communist Party rule alongside a quasi-democracy. With a crackdown on liberal institutions in Hong Kong, Taiwan's president, Tsai Ing-wen, says the Taiwanese people cherish their democratic way of life all the more.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
TSAI ING-WEN: (Foreign language spoken).
MCCARTHY: "For the people of Taiwan," she says, "the biggest takeaway is that one country, two systems is not viable," and especially for a democratized Taiwan, Tsai says, "one country, two systems is absolutely unacceptable."
In 1949, Mao Zedong's revolution ousted the U.S.-backed Chinese nationalists who fled to Taiwan. Today, China considers the self-ruled island a renegade province. The policy of the Chinese Communist Party has long been to incorporate Taiwan in what China claims would be a peaceful unification.
MICHAEL COLE: The so-called great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.
MCCARTHY: Taipei-based author and analyst, Michael Cole.
COLE: Behind all this, there continues to be a threat to use force against Taiwan should they lose faith in, you know, the willingness of the Taiwanese to unify with China.
MCCARTHY: To counter growing military coercion from China, the U.S. has proposed some $2 billion in military hardware for Taiwan. Beijing said Washington's arms sale was playing with fire. China has also hardened warnings to Taiwan against any move declaring independence. Taiwan's foreign minister, Joseph Wu, told NPR that while the country has grown used to threats from China, the Taiwanese are not complacent.
JOSEPH WU: We are trying to improve our defense capabilities, and at the same time, we're showing our determination to defend our way of life, to defend our democracy. And I think that's the best way to show to the Chinese government that their military threat is not going to change the situation in Taiwan.
MCCARTHY: President Tsai's poll numbers shot up when she threw her weight behind Hong Kong's protests, which began over a bill that would allow people arrested in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China for trial. The idea terrifies many Taiwanese.
PAN MINE-CHEN: (Foreign language spoken).
MCCARTHY: Thirty-seven-year-old Pan Mine-chen says, "imagine you're transiting through Hong Kong on the way to the U.S. and being arrested because you've criticized the Chinese government - because it's China, anything can happen," she says. "That's the scariest part."
Protesters from Hong Kong have sought protection in Taiwan and are being reviewed on a case-by-case basis. The country has no asylum law, but deputy minister for the Mainland Affairs Council, Chiu Chui-cheng, says it has an obligation.
CHIU CHUI-CHENG: Hong Kong and then Taiwan - they share the same value - freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. That is why we will assist the Hong Kong people.
MCCARTHY: But Taiwan is also mindful not to overstep with Beijing. Cross-strait relations are sensitive in the best of times. And analyst Michael Cole says protesters seeking refuge in Taiwan pose a particular dilemma for the government.
COLE: If Taiwan were to open its doors to a large number of refugees, especially people who are being targeted for their politics by the Chinese regime, this could also complicate across race relations and compel Beijing to take even more actions to punish Taiwan.
MCCARTHY: Foreign Minister Joseph Wu agrees that Taiwan cannot be seen as doing anything provocative but says it must defend its autonomy.
WU: If Taiwan can survive under the Chinese challenge, that would mean that Hong Kong people will also have that opportunity. They see that the hope is still alive.
MCCARTHY: Wu calls both Taiwan and Hong Kong outposts of democracy. Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Taipei. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.