In its annual human rights report, the US State Department this year gave different evaluations to the rights' situations on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. Even though the US needs Beijing's cooperation in its war on terror, the report still strongly criticizes China for its rights record over the past year. The report is generally positive about the human rights situation in Taiwan. It points out that Taiwan is a pluralistic democracy in which the people have the freedom to elect their leaders and political parties are active and thriving. The report also praises Chen Shui-bian's (
China has made significant economic progress in recent years through reforms and open-door policies, but the Chinese Communist Party's authoritarian rule is little changed. China's violations of human rights have long attracted the attention of international human rights organizations. The party has suppressed the Falun Gong sect, the Roman Catholic church and underground protestant churches it disapproves of. It was for that reason that US President George W. Bush, in his speech at Tsinghua University, called for religious freedom in China. Press freedom remains unknown in China, as the government continues to insist on media controls.
The Chinese people do not have freedom of assembly and arbitrary arrests remain a serious problem, as does persecution of political dissidents and suppression of pro-democracy activists, Tibetan independence and Xinjiang independence activists. Any individual or religious, political or social organization that the Communist Party feels might threaten its power immediately becomes a target.
China's rulers have argued that different countries have different situations, that democracy is a Western-capitalist value and that the Chinese people are not fit for democratic politics.
During Taiwan's authoritarian era, the KMT used the same rationale as their rivals in Beijing for opposing democracy. They used the same tools to try to brainwash the people of Taiwan. But after the long struggle of the opposition movement, the KMT gradually allowed reforms and democracy finally blossomed. Human rights have been a key focus of the DPP and remain so under the DPP administration.
In fact, democracy is a system of civilization that respects the lives and freedoms of individuals. Democracy is not built on the back of capitalism, nor is it a way of life or political system unique to the West. Nor is human rights a Western "prejudice." Democracy and human rights are universal values that remain valid anywhere in the world.
The Chinese authorities have focused on economic reforms in an attempt to provide the basic requirements of daily life for their people. But if China is ever to become a prosperous nation, Beijing must also implement democratic reforms and ensure human rights. A society with no democracy will inevitably see rampant corruption and arbitrary government. A free economy cannot operate properly in such a society. This is not just something for Taiwan to be worry about, it is also a concern for business people around the world.
Without democracy and human rights in China, the two sides of the Taiwan Strait have no foundation of shared values upon which to build a better relationship. In fact, there are extremely high risks and dangers hidden behind cross-strait economic and cultural exchanges, both to the individual Taiwanese businessperson or tourist and to the nation as a whole.