The PRC and ROC National Day Ceremonies Offer Starkly Contrasting Views of “One Country, Two Systems”

A “One Country, Two Systems”-themed parade float, which was featured in the October 1st ceremonies in Beijing that commemorated the 70th anniversary of the founding of the PRC. Official media commentary for this part of the parade asserted that that the “One Country, Two Systems” framework is “the cornerstone of reunification,” and that “the policy will succeed, as long as it is fully and accurately understood and implemented” in Hong Kong and Macao. (Source: CGTN / Youtube)

Introduction

Both the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and the Republic of China (ROC) in Taiwan, observe their national holidays in October. For the PRC, October 1 marks the date in 1949 when the Chinese Communist Party, victorious in the country’s civil war, declared China to be reborn as a new socialist state. In Taiwan, October 10 commemorates the date in 1911 when a revolt began that toppled China’s last imperial dynasty—and led to the founding of the Republic of China, from which Taiwan’s government claims direct lineage. For the states on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, these national holidays are traditionally a day for parades, fireworks, and other public celebrations.

This year’s ceremonies in both Beijing and Taipei included leadership speeches and symbolic themes that presented starkly contrasting views of the “One Country, Two Systems” (一国两制, Yi Guo Liang Zhi) framework. This formula for unification is being pressed forward insistently by the leaders of the PRC—even as it is being increasingly rejected in Taiwan. This has significant implications for the future status of Taiwan, and portends increased tensions ahead in the already strained cross-Strait relationship.

The Theme of “One Country, Two Systems” in the PRC 70th Anniversary Ceremonies

Prior to the massive military parade that served as the centerpiece of the PRC’s 70th anniversary ceremonies on October 1, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping presented a brief address of about eight minutes. The speech was largely a recitation of platitudes (“No force can ever shake the status of our great motherland, or stop the Chinese people and nation from marching forward”) and familiar propaganda themes (“We must persist [in adhering to] the leadership of the Communist Party… and the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics”). The speech also played upon traditional themes of nationalist grievance, with the CCP presented as China’s savior from foreign exploitation (“This great event [Communist victory] completely changed China’s miserable fate of being poor and weak, and being bullied and humiliated for over 100 years… and set the Chinese people on the glorious road of realizing our great rejuvenation”). [1]

The speech was most noteworthy for two connected themes. The first of these was Xi’s unsubtle effort to link himself with the legacy of Mao Zedong: as Xi stated at the opening of the speech, “It was 70 years ago today that Comrade Mao Zedong stood here and solemnly announced to the world the founding of the People’s Republic of China, and that the Chinese people were henceforth standing up.” [2] In case anyone might miss the point, Xi appeared at the ceremonies dressed in an old-fashioned Mao suit (also known as a “Zhongshan suit”) of the type associated with the PRC’s revolutionary generation. This choice of attire produced striking images of Xi standing at the center of other senior CCP leaders, who were all dressed in Western-style business suits (see image below).

Images above: The members of the CCP Politburo Standing Committee, as well as retired senior CCP leaders, observe the PRC 70th anniversary ceremonies from a reviewing stand at the Forbidden City. Current CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping stood at the center, flanked by his predecessors Hu Jintao (left) and Jiang Zemin (right). While others on the platform wore Western-style suits, Xi attended the ceremonies in a “Mao suit” evocative of the revolutionary era and earlier years of the CCP regime. (Source: CNA / Youtube)

The second theme was one that Xi has forcefully asserted throughout 2019: the inevitability of China’s national reunification under the “One Country, Two Systems” framework originally formulated under Deng Xiaoping  in the late 1970s (China Brief, February 15). As Xi stated in his address, “On our journey forward, we must uphold the principles of ‘peaceful reunification’ and ‘one country, two systems,’ maintain lasting prosperity and stability in Hong Kong and Macao, promote the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations, unite all Chinese sons and daughters, and continue to struggle (奋斗, fendou) for the motherland’s complete reunification.” [3] To further stress this theme, the official ceremonies included a parade featuring a large “One Country, Two Systems” float and accompanying scripted official commentary (see accompanying image).

As a coda to the messages about unification in his October 1 speech, Xi felt the need to drive the point home in even starker terms during an October 13 visit to Nepal. In a meeting with officials of Nepal’s ruling Communist Party government, Xi praised Nepal’s adherence to a “One China” policy, and added: “If anyone schemes to split any part of China, the result will only be that their bodies are torn apart and their bones are smashed (粉身碎骨, fenshen suigu); and if any foreign power supports separatism, the Chinese people will only regard this as wishful thinking!” (Guancha, October 13).

Sharply Contrasting Messages in Taiwan’s National Day Ceremonies

Despite the efforts of Beijing to promote “One Country, Two Systems,” the formula has garnered minimal support in Taiwan (Taiwan English News, January 9; China Brief, September 6). Furthermore, Beijing’s steady encroachment upon Hong Kong’s traditional freedoms, and the chronic unrest this has produced, have severely tarnished whatever limited appeal the concept may once have held. Against this backdrop, and facing an approaching bid for re-election in January, Taiwan President Tsai Ying-Wen made criticism of the PRC’s terms for unification a key theme in her address delivered during the “Double Ten” holiday ceremonies held in Taipei on October 10.

Image Left: Republic of China (Taiwan) President Tsai Ying-Wen delivers an official address during the ROC National Day ceremonies in Taipei on October 10, 2019. (Source: ROC Foreign Ministry / Youtube) Image Right: A street view of the presidential reviewing platform during Tsai’s speech. (Source: Taiwan Central News Agency / Youtube)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In her own National Day speech, President Tsai stated that “Hong Kong is on the verge of chaos due to the failure of ‘one country, two systems’… Nevertheless, China is still threatening to impose [this] model for Taiwan.” She further asserted that “the overwhelming consensus among Taiwan’s 23 million people is our rejection of ‘one country, two systems,’ regardless of party affiliation or political position. … if we were to accept “one country, two systems,” there would no longer be room for the Republic of China’s existence” (ROC Presidential Office, October 10).

President Tsai further drew stark comparisons between the PRC and the ROC, stating that the “diplomatic offensives and military coercion [of the PRC] pose a serious challenge to regional stability and peace.” By contrast, she presented Taiwan as a bulwark of freedom in the face of this PRC aggression: “We are witnessing China’s rise and expansion, as they challenge free, democratic values and the global order through a combination of authoritarianism, nationalism, and economic might…. Taiwan has become the first line of defense for democratic values” (ROC Presidential Office, October 10).

Conclusion

The CCP leadership under Xi Jinping continues to assert that “One Country, Two Systems” is a viable—and in fact, the only—model for the unification of Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan with the PRC.  It furthermore continues to assert that such a process of unification is inevitable. However, the clear alienation of many Hong Kong citizens from the city administration imposed upon them has severely diminished whatever credibility the concept may once have held. The example of Hong Kong has demonstrated that the “One Country, Two Systems” framework serves as a cover for the gradual subversion by the CCP of any institutions that stand in the way of its exercise of untrammeled authority.

Despite this, the PRC leadership continues to offer repeated assertions of this tired slogan, even as its own demands for unification grow ever more insistent and strident. The contrasting PRC and ROC national holiday events on October 1 and October 10 further brought into relief the fact that the two states remain as far apart as ever on the question of unification in general—and on “One Country, Two Systems” specifically. In light of the increasingly assertive posture of the PRC, and the rapid advancement of its military capabilities, this augurs ill for the future course of relations across the Taiwan Strait.

John Dotson is the editor of China Brief. Contact him at: [email protected].

Notes

[1] See video of the speech posted at “Chinese President Xi Jinping Delivers Speech to Mark National Day,” CGTN, October 1, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5qgd1lzWRo; and the full Chinese text of the speech at  “Xi Jinping: No Force Can Ever Shake the Status of Our Great Motherland, or Stop the Chinese People and Nation from Marching Forward,” Xinhua, October 9, http://www.fjnet.com/shishi/tj/201910/t20191009_278569.htm. [Original text: “我们要坚持中国共产党领导… 坚持中国特色社会主义道路” and “没有任何力量能够撼动我们伟大祖国的地位, 没有任何力量能够阻挡中国人民和中华民族的前进步伐” and “这一伟大事件,彻底改变了近代以后100多年中国积贫积弱、受人欺凌的悲惨命运,中华民族走上了实现伟大复兴的壮阔道路。”)

[2] Ibid. [Original text: “70年前的今天,毛泽东同志在这里向世界庄严宣告了中华人民共和国的成立,中国人民从此站起来了。这一伟大事件,彻底改变了近代以后100多年中国积贫积弱、受人欺凌的悲惨命运,中华民族走上了实现伟大复兴的壮阔道路.”]

[3] Ibid. [Original text: “前进征程上,我们要坚持“和平统一、一国两制”的方针,保持香港、澳门长期繁荣稳定,推动海峡两岸关系和平发展,团结全体中华儿女,继续为实现祖国完全统一而奋斗。”]