The timing couldn’t be worse — or better, depending on how one looks at it. On June 4, various organizations and exiled Chinese dissidents in Taiwan will mark the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre through exhibitions, vigils and other activities. Because he attended similar activities in previous years, it was understandable for the organizers to invite President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to this year’s events.
The problem is that on June 4 this year, Ma and his delegation will be returning from their visit to Central America. This is convenient timing for Ma, as it will spare him the difficult choice of whether to attend the events and risk upsetting Beijing or not do so and face criticism by advocates in Taiwan. (His decision not to meet Chinese democracy activist Wang Dan [王丹] this week nevertheless speaks volumes.)
Other individuals in the Ma administration won’t have the luxury of such an excuse. Still, some, including the Straits Exchange Foundation(SEF) Deputy Secretary-General Pang Chien-kuo (龐建國), have already said they will not attend. Pang said it would be “inconvenient” for him to do so, given his current position.
Not so long ago, the Ma administration was using a similar argument to shoot down the possibility of a visit by Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama: The timing was “inconvenient” as Taipei and Beijing were developing closer ties.
This is a dangerous trend, because human rights and democracy are always “inconvenient” for Beijing. And what is inconvenient for China is increasingly becoming inconvenient for Taiwan.
With Vice President Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) recovering from lung surgery, it is unlikely he will take part in the activities on June 4. But other top officials in the Ma government, including Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄), Minister of Justice Wang Ching-feng (王清峰), Minister of Foreign Affairs Francisco Ou (歐鴻鍊) and MAC Chairwoman Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛), to name a few, have neither health problems nor overly tight schedules. There is no reason, therefore, for them not to attend a memorial to the hundreds of unarmed protesters who were killed by People’s Liberation Army troops 20 years ago, or the millions of Chinese who called for political reform and an end to corruption.
Under former presidents Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), the MAC, other branches of the central government and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) made at least some effort to call on Beijing to improve human rights.
If every other day isn’t “convenient,” the Ma administration should at least make an effort on June 4 by proclaiming that, in spite of its agenda of developing ties with China, Taiwanese will not sacrifice their values. The symbolism of the presence of top officials at some of the events would not go unnoticed, especially because, two decades later, the massacre remains a taboo subject in China.
More than ever, and at a time when it faces accusations of an erosion of democracy at home, the Ma administration must show that, despite its efforts to foster closer ties with Beijing, it remains committed to upholding human rights everywhere.
Lu Xun (魯迅) once wrote: “A true warrior dares to stare the sadness of life in the face and to see the blood that drips there.”
Whether our government officials are “true warriors” will be seen on June 4.