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Did Elon Musk just pitch the most naïve Taiwan/China solution ever?

Elon Musk. (Suzanne Cordeiro/For the Austin American-Statesman/TNS)
October 10, 2022

Continuing on a trend of pitching peace proposals this past week, billionaire Elon Musk offered up a solution to prevent China and Taiwan from going to war: make Taiwan like Hong Kong.

In an interview with the Financial Times on Friday, Musk gave his pitch to prevent the much larger forces of the Chinese mainland from invading Taiwan.

“My recommendation . . . would be to figure out a special administrative zone for Taiwan that is reasonably palatable,” Musk told the Financial Times.

Musk said the solution “probably won’t make everyone happy. And it’s possible, and I think probably, in fact, that they could have an arrangement that’s more lenient than Hong Kong.”

Taiwan has governed itself as an independent nation for decades, though the mainland People’s Republic of China (PRC) asserts that the island is a part of its territory.

Musk’s pitch to make Taiwan a special administrative zone of China would essentially cede the island to China’s sovereignty claim. And if China were to handle Taiwan’s status the way it handled Hong Kong’s, Taiwan’s autonomy would erode.

Hong Kong officially became a colony of the British empire in 1842, after a war between the Great Britain and the Chinese Qing Dynasty. The British eventually began the process to hand over Hong Kong to the PRC with the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong.

Britain agreed to hand over control of Hong Kong to the PRC in 1997 under a series of conditions that gave the territory a fair degree of autonomy. The joint declaration states Hong Kong “will be vested with executive, legislative and independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication.”

The joint declaration also states, “The current social and economic systems in Hong Kong will remain unchanged, and so will the life-style. Rights and freedoms, including those of the person, of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of travel, of movement, of correspondence, of strike, of choice of occupation, of academic research and of religious belief will be ensured by law in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Private property, ownership of enterprises, legitimate right of inheritance and
foreign investment will be protected by law.”

Despite Britain’s conditions for handing over Hong Kong, the communist PRC government has significantly shrunk the territory’s autonomy. In June of 2020, the Chinese government passed so-called “national security” measures that have curtailed the free speech and the free press codified in the Sino-British joint declaration.

The Chinese national security laws in Hong Kong criminalized broadly-defined acts of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces. Hong Kong citizens have been warned that repeating pro-Taiwan independence slogans would run afoul of the new security laws.

The Apple Daily and Stand News — two Hong Kong publications that had been critical of the China’s legislative crack down on Hong Kong — were shuttered after accusations that the publications were involved in foreign collusion and promoting sedition respectively.

The PRC welcomed Musk’s proposal for China and Taiwan, with Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. Qin Gang tweeting, “I would like to thank @elonmusk for his call for peace across the Taiwan Strait and his idea about establishing a special administrative zone for Taiwan. Actually, Peaceful reunification and One Country, Two Systems are our basic principles for resolving the Taiwan question…”

By contrast, Taiwanese representative to the U.S. Bi-khim Hsiao tweeted, “Taiwan sells many products, but our freedom and democracy are not for sale. Any lasting proposal for our future must be determined peacefully, free from coercion, and respectful of the democratic wishes of the people of Taiwan.”

Last week, Musk also pitched his idea to end the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. His proposal entailed throwing out the results of Russian-backed referenda in which four eastern Ukrainian territories voted to become part of Russia. Musk proposed that the referenda would be held once again, this time under United Nations supervision. His deal entailed a commitment from Russia that it would leave if the new vote didn’t go its way, and Ukraine would commit to neutrality between Russia and NATO and restore water access to Russian-controlled Crimea.

Musk’s solution to the war in Ukraine received a similar response, with Russian Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov praising Musk for “looking for a peaceful way out” while Ukrainian Ambassador to Germany Andrij Melnyk told Musk to “fuck off.”