The first time the Dalai Lama wanted to visit after President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) took office, the Tibetan spiritual leader was turned down because it was not an “appropriate time for him to visit.” When World Uyghur Congress president and former political prisoner Rebiya Kadeer was invited to visit, the government said she was “linked to terrorists.”
Then there were the beat-ups. World Uyghur Congress secretary-general Dolkun Isa had not even planned to visit when the National Immigration Agency barred him based on intelligence from a “friendly country” indicating that he had links to terrorist groups. Isa, who has visited Taiwan before, was surprised and disappointed.
Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi (李洪志) might be equally surprised to hear that he, too, is not welcome in Taiwan — even though he has not made public any plans to come.
Last week, the Chinese-language China Times reported that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) intended to invite Li to visit. This could only be interpreted as a “provocation” designed to push the government into another awkward refusal of a Beijing foe who poses no risk to public order or national security.
Each refusal is an embarrassment that highlights the government’s willingness to stifle free speech to appease its authoritarian neighbor. Its rejection of Kadeer was perhaps even more cringeworthy than that of the Dalai Lama, because Minister of the Interior Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) gratuitously linked a peaceful democracy activist to violent elements. That is rhetoric often heard from Beijing on both the Dalai Lama and Kadeer, but this was the first time the Taiwanese government has chimed in.
On Li’s case, National Security Bureau Director Tsai Der-sheng’s (蔡得勝) response was as telling as Jiang’s. In a legislative question-and-answer session, Tsai said a visit by Li would “damage cross-strait ties.”
This is precisely the government’s reason for shunning Kadeer and the Dalai Lama, who was later allowed to visit in the aftermath of Typhoon Morakot, but snubbed by Ma.
Tsai’s bluntness is noteworthy. It may indicate that the government is smarting after its claims about Kadeer backfired, drawing much negative publicity. Yet it is surprising that Tsai felt obliged to offer information on Li at all. No one — the newspaper that first published the report about Li, the DPP legislator who asked Tsai about him or Tsai himself — seems concerned with just how implausible a visit by Li at the invitation of the DPP is.
Li is described by people who know him as intensely private. He has long avoided the limelight, although there is no shortage of news outlets and other audiences who would be interested in hearing his opinions on the persecution of Falun Gong, the stability of Chinese Communist Party rule and other matters in his home country.
Tsai, like Jiang, offered more information than was called for, raising the question of whether he was pandering to Beijing.
His comments may have pleased China, even if Zhongnanhai is probably not concerned about Li visiting Taiwan.
After the security bureau’s frankness, it would be interesting to hear the government’s response if another of China’s star dissidents were invited. The DPP may never have planned to invite Li, but perhaps it should draw up a list of other thorns in China’s side. There is good reason to be intentionally provocative: Barring peaceful dissidents to avoid upsetting Beijing is deplorable and must be confronted.
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