It’s a bit late to be doing a 2014 review so please excuse me. Basically, 2014 was a rough year for the world, for Africa, for the Middle East, for China, for Taiwan and for Hong Kong.
Though none of these could compare to what Brazil had to suffer (football or World Cup fans will know what I mean).**
It was a year of tragedies, armed conflicts, disappearing and crashed planes, and political turmoil.
There was the chilling rise of ISIS, a radical Islamic army that seemed to have sprung up from nowhere, defeated Iraqi soldiers and militias easily, conquered a large swathe of land, and trying hard to turn back time to many centuries ago. An Ebola epidemic spread across three countries in West Africa and infected and killed thousands. There was a short conflict in which Israel went into Palestine’s Gaza Strip and thousands, mostly Palestinians, died. The Syrian civil war still raged on, while Libya and South Sudan saw violent conflicts as well. Ukraine saw a popular uprising that toppled a pro-Russian leader, which then made Russia try to destabilize the country by supporting separatists and taking a part of Ukraine, Crimea, for itself. This conflict had a huge impact on innocent parties when a civilian airliner was destroyed by what was likely a missile, killing almost 300 people on board.
For China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, the year was one of big changes as well.
China took a lot of big steps in 2014 in trying to live up to its reputation as a potential superpower. It launched plans to establish an Asian Infrastructure Bank, a BRICS bank, and a $40 billion Silk Road revitalization economic plan. It also continued its crackdown on corruption and widened it by targeting everyone from churches to journalists to drug dealers to Western TV shows to even English teachers. The government (Xi) made history by “arresting” Zhou Yongkang for corruption, making the former interior minister and Politburo member the highest-ranking ex-official to be arrested. The government also pronounced “rule of law” as a major priority in an attempt to enact judicial reform, though obviously without actually changing the party’s overall power.
On one hand, it might look like Xi Jinping and the regime feel supremely confident and are on the right path to making China great while consolidating their rule, but on the other, it is possible to detect a bit of desperate extremism and a sense of trying to cover up domestic weaknesses. The economy slowed down as the problems surfaced with the property market, shadow banking, and industrial overcapacity. The easy growth is over, I feel, and indeed people like Xi and Premier Li Keqiang have stressed the need to undertake major reforms to refocus the economy away from quantity to quality. They’re right, but the question is how genuine they can be in trying to follow their words and to endure the tough economic challenges that will happen. Xinjiang was still a region of turbulence while Hong Kong unexpectedly became a major challenge.
Hong Kong has been suffering from increased poverty, rising inequality and resentment of mainland visitors, and this came to a head later in the year when China rejected allowing open nominations for the 2017 chief executive election. Students undertook a week of street protests before then launching the Occupy protest that shook the regime for a while and galvanized HK society. The Occupy movement faced down the police and suspected mob gangsters and lasted for months in two major parts of HK. Divisions broke out, violence happened, and student activists got a little desperate at the end, but they accomplished an amazing feat. They got the attention of the world, put pressure on China, and ultimately made a lot of people realize that some HKers are definitely passionate about political issues. It’ll be interesting to see how the movement proceeds this year, whether it will launch more protests or disband and retreat. China has showed signs of taking a more hardline stance such as an official criticizing HK schools and suggesting patriotic education.
Taiwan saw major events throughout the year, more than usual, especially in politics. The Sunflower Movement broke out in March by rushing into and occupying the legislature for 3 weeks to prevent a cross-strait services bill from being passed. This brought to the fore the deep dislike and distrust of China among younger people in Taiwan and it marked a willingness of taking desperate actions to stand up for their political beliefs. I admit I was a bit disdainful about the movement as it was occupying the legislation, but I’ve come to reverse my stance.
Then in November, Taiwan’s massive local elections saw the ruling KMT lose several of its strongholds, resulting in an overwhelming DPP victory. This weakens the KMT of course, and President Ma Ying-jeou as well. It also brought into question their pro-mainland stance over the past few years and the loss showed many Taiwanese do not support that.
Taiwan also saw a series of major food safety scandals involving contaminated food and reused food oils, which showed that mainland China does not have a monopoly on gutter oil. Taiwan also suffered a few disasters such as a deadly plane crash in Penghu and a pipeline explosion in a major city that killed dozens.
I think the events in 2014 showed that younger Taiwanese are becoming more vocal and spirited in political issues, especially that of relations with the mainland. This is a good thing, regardless of whatever their stance is, because the current status quo attitude that a lot of Taiwanese have, with its passive reasoning, isn’t working.
As with the Occupy movement in Hong Kong, the Sunflower Movement and the DPP’s big win in the local elections put a lot of pressure on China in terms of international attention and the actual process of “unification” that the mainland is so eager to accomplish. It is no secret that many Taiwanese do not wish to become part of China, but the status quo, in which Taiwan does not push for formal independence while the mainland claims it but leaves it alone in domestic matters, made Taiwan seem as if it was steadily resigned to becoming lured into the mainland’s grasp. The Sunflower Movement and DPP electoral victory were very public and unmistakable acts of defiance that showed there are some Taiwanese that don’t accept that.
On the mainland, it’ll be interesting to see how economic and judicial reforms work out and if the regime will continue to be more hardline with its crackdowns. I don’t have a good feeling about society and the future in the mainland since whether the government is genuine or not about wanting to reform the economy, there will be a period of tough changes.
** This sentence about Brazil is tongue-in-cheek. However, other than Brazilians, the World Cup, which took place in Brazil, was probably one of the high points of the year.