So far, that has not happened -- and not only because the U.S. Congress established de facto diplomatic relations with Taipei and committed the U.S. to help Taiwan defend itself. Taiwanese, too, have developed their own distinct identity tied to democracy. Polls show a steady climb in the percentage of people who consider themselves "Taiwanese." At first, some observers claimed that the growing sense of a distinct Taiwanese identity was artificial, the result of campaigns by pro-independence politicians seeking electoral advantage in a population sharply divided between relative newcomers from the mainland and the native Taiwanese population. In fact, according to Melissa J. Brown, a cultural anthropologist and the author of Is Taiwan Chinese?, those politicians "merely articulated and emphasized a change in Taiwanese identity that had been developing" in the years since Taiwan embraced democracy. Despite their different policies on relations with China, today both of Taiwan's major political parties consider democracy a non-negotiable element of any resolution of the island's fate.
Perhaps worse, from Beijing's perspective, as Shelley Rigger, a political scientist at Davidson College writes, Taiwanese people's "commitment to democracy is stronger than their determination to achieve a particular outcome." A civic identity that prioritizes democracy is an existential threat to the Chinese Communist Party, which peddles a brand of nationalism based on chauvinism, xenophobia, and great power pretentions.
The democratic identity developing among Tibetans in exile is also a challenge for Beijing. Communist propaganda presents the Dalai Lama as an "evil splittist," the representative of a backward, aristocratic elite from which the Party has emancipated the long-suffering Tibetans. In fact, the Tibetan spiritual leader long ago abandoned independence as a goal, opting instead for "genuine autonomy" within the People's Republic. He has led the India-based Tibetan government in exile through a democratic transition. Last March, he completed the project by separating his religious duties from his political ones, turning over the latter to a prime minister elected by eligible voters among Tibetan exiles in South Asia, Europe, and the United States. The Dalai Lama has said that whether the institution of the Dalai Lama continues is up to Tibetans, and he pursues dialogue with ordinary Chinese citizens. All of this is extremely threatening to Beijing, which, upon the current Dalai Lama's death, is planning to install its own puppet ruler in Tibet through "guidelines on reincarnation" that emphasize "patriotism" and "love of the motherland."
Professor Chung, the Hong Kong sociologist, has declined to speculate on the reasons behind the change in attitudes among citizens of the territory. He did point out, perhaps wryly, that "Cultural Revolution-style curses and defamations, no matter at whom they are directed, are not conducive to the building of Chinese national identity among Hong Kong people."
Certainly, attitudes fluctuate for a variety of reasons. Professor Chung's statistics over the years show a higher identification with the mainland during events that might stir feelings of pride and belonging, such as the 1997 return to Chinese rule or the Beijing Olympics. On the flip side, Hong Kongers harbor resentment about the influx of mainlanders who push up property values, or take advantage of rules granting residence to mainland babies born in Hong Kong. Ill-mannered tourists are another source of irritation, and an ad taken out in a leading newspaper denouncing them as "locusts" exacerbated tensions. (The man in the photo above is demonstrating against plans to allow mainland drivers to enter Hong Kong in their cars.) On the other hand, some mainlanders come to the territory each year to participate in the June 4 march that commemorates the 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square.
Beijing's "candidates" for the chief executive post, Henry Tang and C.Y. Leung, are stepping gingerly through the minefield of Hong Kong identity politics. Both criticized a mainland TV talk show diatribe by Kong Qingdong, a Beijing University professor who claims direct descent from Confucius, a favorite Communist Party apologist. Hong Kong people, according to Professor Kong, "got accustomed to being "running dogs for British imperialists.... They are still dogs.... They are not human." Dog-walking protesters promptly turned up at Beijing's Liaison Office in Hong Kong.
Tang and Leung, however, are both in a bind. As supplicants for Hong Kong's top job, they can ape the mainland's values and lose the ability to govern, or stand up for Hong Kong's values and institutions and lose Beijing's backing. It's a dilemma that will become more, not less, problematic for them -- as well as their patrons in the Communist Party.