Nov. 3, 2008, was a historic day for Taiwan, not because Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) Chairman Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤) and Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) met, but because it was the first of several days when the capital of the Republic of China was effectively ruled by the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
Nov. 3 was a day that saw both the nation’s dignity and human rights trampled.
No national symbol of the ROC was allowed where Chen and his delegation might see it. National flags, a representation of national sovereignty, were seized by police from protesters and passers-by alike. People waving the five-starred PRC flag, however, were left alone.
Freedom of speech was suppressed. Police broke into hotel rooms without cause or warrant, as in the case of four Democratic Progressive Party Taichung City councilors whose room on the sixth floor of the Grand Hotel was raided after the councilors exercised their freedom of speech by unfurling banners from the balcony.
Individual human rights were suppressed. Police seized property without legitimate reason, a motorcyclist was stopped by police simply because the scooter was decorated with Tibetan flags and individuals having afternoon tea at hotels that Chen visited were dragged away. People were stopped and questioned on the street for wearing T-shirts reading “Taiwan is my country.” A music store was ordered to turn off its sound system and close its doors because it was playing Song of Taiwan. The list goes on.
It appears the PRC’s territory does not end in the plane that carried Chen to Taiwan but is in force wherever Chen goes during his stay.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) promised he would safeguard Taiwan’s dignity. He says the Presidential Office did not order ROC flags removed from the Grand Hotel and other spots. How could Ma expect such sophistry to be taken seriously when the flag has vanished from every site Chen has visited or passed?
The Presidential Office said everything has been done according to the law. This does not identify which law was broken by people wearing a favorite T-shirt, playing a favorite song or hanging a protest banner.
The image of the police has also been badly tarnished. Instead of being seen as helpful public servants, they appear arrogant, abusive and partisan.
There has been widespread speculation about how Chen will address Ma when they meet today. What will it matter if Chen calls him “Mr. President” when Ma and his administration have so badly trashed the country’s dignity?
Those who say the heavy police presence and repression will disappear once Chen leaves town miss the point. Everything that has happened this week shows not only how far from democratic a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government is, but offers a taste of what could be expected if Taiwan were to become part of China.
For those too young to remember the Martial Law era, for those who wonder what Taiwan would be like if it were annexed by China, remember what has happened in Taipei this week. Taiwanese have come too far and fought too hard to go willingly into the darkness once again.
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