There was a time not so long ago when Taiwan’s government could be counted on to support oppressed minorities and dissidents in China, a time when Taipei would speak in their name and request that their rights be respected.
Doing so came at a cost, as it could sour already poor relations with Beijing, but at least Taipei could stand by its principles and be called a bastion of democracy in the region.
A mere month has elapsed and already that image is being threatened. Fearing that rattling the cage would complicate ongoing cross-strait negotiations, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) avoided referring to the Tiananmen Square Massacre or calling for the release of protesters from that era in his June 4 speech — a sad departure from previous years. The rest of his government has fared no better.
Since then, reports have emerged that a handful of Chinese activists have been arrested for scratching beneath the surface in the quake-hit areas and exposing circumstances that Beijing would prefer stay unknown. Huang Qi (黃琦) was detained for seeking to provide assistance to families who lost children in the catastrophe, writers Huang Xiaomin (黃曉敏) and Zhang Qi (張起) were detained on May 16 for seeking to join relief efforts, while Zeng Hongling (曾宏玲), a retired worker who published several accounts of his visits to quake-hit areas, was detained on June 9 on suspicion of “illegally providing information overseas.”
Then, with the Olympic torch heading for Xinjiang, reports revealed that thousands of Uighur Muslims in the region had been “preventively” rounded up, passports had been seized and a number of people forced into “political education” on “protecting” the Olympics — preparations for the Games that are sure not to appear in any International Olympic Committee manual.
Add to this the continuing limits on foreign reporters in China and daily acts of repression in general, and we see that despite the Games — and despite the Sichuan earthquake — Chinese President Hu Jintao’s (胡錦濤) grip on political freedoms remains as tight as ever. In other words, China hasn’t changed.
But there is a real chance that Taiwan is changing, too, and not for the better.
Its new envoys now fail to speak against injustice. Worse, as Taiwanese negotiators are feted in restaurants and palaces in Beijing, they could become complicit in the crimes that are perpetrated against China’s minorities and dissidents. This would make Taiwan no better than other countries that, for their own reasons, choose to look the other way when Beijing fails to meet the most basic standards of responsible and competent government.
Taiwanese, recognized the world over for achievements in democratization, should not be willing to sacrifice this reputation so that ideologically driven officials can cross the Strait and compromise standards of decency and accountable governance.
To sully Taiwan’s accomplishments over a distant promise of better political relations with Beijing — assuming Beijing would keep any of its promises, which is naive — is an act of shamelessness that will become increasingly difficult to rationalize when the the consequences of selective cross-strait opening become clear to the average voter.