Reports on Saturday that two Taiwanese citizens were detained by Chinese police were a stark reminder of the unbridgeable divide between democracy and authoritarianism.
Shao Yuhua (邵玉華), a Falun Gong practitioner who immigrated from China 11 years ago, was taken away, along with her Taiwan-born daughter, while visiting her family in Henan Province, the Taiwan Falun Dafa Association said.
Her sister, a follower of the same spiritual movement, was also detained. Given their faith, it is almost certain that the three were targeted not because of any crime they had committed, but because their religion has been labeled an “evil cult” by Beijing, which flouts its constitutional obligation to honor freedom of religion.
Their detention highlights a problem other governments have encountered: Beijing does not recognize dual or renounced citizenship for Chinese nationals. Even governments like Canada, which China recognizes, have trouble convincing Beijing to respect their right to protect their citizens.
It should therefore come as no surprise that Chinese authorities have no qualms about detaining Taiwanese citizens of Chinese origin.
Nevertheless, action by the Taiwanese government in taking up Shao and her child’s case could be crucial to the fate of the two.
In 2006, Huseyincan Celil — a Uighur activist who fled China, received UN refugee status and was later granted citizenship by the Canadian government — was arrested by Chinese authorities. Celil had been visiting family in Uzbekistan when he was detained and handed over to Xinjiang police at their request.
In the case of Celil, Canada’s swift and persistent diplomatic efforts may have prevented him from being executed. Ottawa sent diplomats to China to lobby for his release and secured a promise from Beijing that he would not be executed. Later, some reports said that Celil was sentenced to death, but that at the last minute the penalty was commuted to life imprisonment.
Celil remains in prison and it seems unlikely that China will yield to Ottawa’s demands for his release. Nevertheless, the decision not to execute him in a country that is almost unsparing with the death penalty was significant.
In the case of Shao and her daughter, Taiwan’s actions could help determine whether the pair will ever be freed.
The arrests illustrate the severity of China’s crackdown on Falun Gong, in which even children are not spared. It is unclear how many people have been sentenced to prison or thrown into the extrajudicial laogai system, in which prisoners have no recourse to courts, their families may not be informed of their whereabouts or sentence, and sentences are subject to arbitrary extension.
If Taipei keeps quiet on Shao’s detention, it will be failing its obligation to protect its citizens. It must push decisively and sincerely for the release of Shao and her daughter.
Unfortunately, given its silence on the oppression of Tibetans and Uighurs, it is unlikely that the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) will risk angering Chinese authorities by touching on one of the most taboo subjects in China — Falun Gong.
This, however, would only amplify doubts about the priorities of Ma’s cross-strait policies. In all dealings with China, the welfare of Taiwanese citizens must take priority.
NOTE: In the editorial above, we reported that Falun Gong practitioner Shao Yuhua's daughter and her sister, also a Falun Gong follower, had been detained by Chinese police. Shao's daughter was not detained. Her sister does not practice Falun Gong and was detained briefly and released. Only Shao remains in detention. The Taipei Times regrets the error.
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