On Dec. 25, Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波), one of the co-authors of Charter 08, was sentenced to 11 years in prison and deprived of his political rights for a further two years by the Chinese authorities on charges of “agitation activities aimed at subversion of the government.”
Charter 08 is a declaration that calls on the Chinese Communist Party to carry out political reforms, protect human rights, and implement democracy and the rule of law. The heavy sentence imposed on Liu for launching Charter 08 once more underlines the political differences between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.
Liu incurred a heavy penalty simply for launching a petition. If a similar standard were applied in Taiwan, the million people who took part in the “red shirt” movement calling on then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to step down would probably all be guilty of the heinous crime of “subversion of the state” and would end up in jail.
The text of Charter 08 is easy to find on the Internet. It calls on the authorities to put into practice the two UN human rights covenants China signed in 1998 and to protect human rights, as required by the Constitution since an amendment in 2004. Charter 08 also urges authorities to gradually move toward democracy.
It says: “The ruling clique continues to insist on maintaining its authoritarian rule and fighting off political change. The results of this are official corruption, undermining of the rule of law, weak human rights, decay in public ethics, growing inequality between rich and poor, distorted economic development, and destruction of the natural, human and cultural environments. Citizens’ rights of freedom, property and the pursuit of happiness are not systematically guaranteed. All kinds of social contradictions keep building up, and discontent continues to mount. Above all, sharpening animosity between officials and ordinary people and, recently, a great increase in incidents of mass protest, indicate a disastrous trend that is getting out of hand.”
Why did Liu receive such a heavy sentence for a moderate political declaration that is just words on paper? How is this different from the literary inquisitions of feudal times? The people who signed Charter 08 did not take to the streets, nor have they formed an organized opposition to the ruling party. They are at most a quiet petitioning movement.
Liu is not the only victim of this ruling. The ruling, and the political system and mentality that lie behind it, may well hinder peaceful cross-strait development. Think about it: If the Chinese authorities refuse to change their ways, will the millions of people in Taiwan who support the values that Liu Xiaobo wants for China accept unification in any form?
How could the political conditions highlighted by Liu’s case have anything but a negative impact on cross-strait relations?
Most people in Taiwan want to see China move toward freedom and democracy. Surely President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who advocates peace and progress in cross-strait relations, wants the same thing. For the sake of cross-strait peace and progress, the Ma administration should not remain silent about cases like this. On the one hand, the government must show the public that it is determined to protect freedom and democracy. On the other, it must make clear to China where it stands on human rights.
Whatever Taiwan’s future, it must have the support of the majority of Taiwanese. If we want to promote peace, then we have to promote political progress in China.
Chen I-chung is an associate research fellow at the Research Center for Humanities and Social Sciences at the Academia Sinica.
TRANSLATED BY JULIAN CLEGG
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