Thu, May 30, 2002 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: No prodigal son, just a disgrace

Justin Lin (林毅夫), a former ROC army officer who defected to China in 1979, wants to return to Taiwan and attend his father's funeral next week. His application for entry has created a problem for the government.

Taiwan has regulations governing the issuance of entry permits for Chinese from the mainland. These regulations allow Chinese citizens -- including members of the Chinese Communist Party, PRC government officials and People's Liberation Army officers -- to enter Taiwan to visit sick relatives or to attend their funerals, as long as the applicants once had a household registration in Taiwan. Zhang Kehui (張克輝), a standing committee member of Beijing's National People's Congress, visited Taiwan in 1993 for his father's funeral. Wang Mengying (王孟英), a daughter of Chu Chia-hua (朱家驊), a former president of Academia Sinica, has also visited, even though she is a committee member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

Lin's case, however, is different. He was known as Lin Cheng-yi (林正義) when he lived in Taiwan. He began as an agricultural engineering student at National Taiwan University but transferred to the army's academy and later became the commander of the front-line Mashan (馬山) company in Kinmen. He was considered an outstanding officer and was being groomed for higher rank until he disappeared.

Instead of making Lin's defection public, the military declared him missing and then declared him dead, in order to save face. Lin Cheng-yi no longer exists, but a Lin Yifu graduated from Beijing University, continued his studies at the University of Chicago and became an important economic aide to PRC Premier Zhu Rongji (朱鎔基) and a professor at Beijing University.

Lin's application to return has reopened old wounds that the government and military tried so hard to hide. Lin certainly violated ROC military law, but the government did not launch an investigation or issue an arrest warrant at the time of his defection. He was declared dead 23 years ago -- which would put him well beyond the 20-year time limit for prosecution. Legally speaking, the government cannot pursue criminal charges or stop him from leaving the country once his visit is concluded.

Even if Lin's visit is an embarrassment for the government, he should be allowed to enter the country. Taiwan has eased many restrictions on mainland Chinese visiting sick relatives or attending funerals. Nevertheless, there is no reason to welcome him back with open arms. He is an affront to the tens of thousands of servicemen who have devoted their lives to defend Taiwan, as well as for the millions of people who have made Taiwan into the great country it is today. He should apologize for his actions and ensure that his visit remains low-key.

Lin's case is a touchstone for human rights in Taiwan -- it is not a political football. The government should approve his application as soon as possible. Such approval will stand in stark contrast to the way China treats those who have left from its embrace, as well as the human rights gap between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. Cross-strait interaction will become smoother and more harmonious if the governments on the two sides of the Strait cooperate on the basis of human rights -- such as the assistance offered by Beijing and its private sector in search and rescue operations for flight CI611 -- not politics.

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