While local media outlets over the past week focused on the controversial bill to reform the premium scale of the National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme in the hopes of rescuing the debt-ridden system, few noticed a number of proposals at the very bottom of the legislature’s agenda — proposals that might have significant symbolic meaning.
Out of the 57 proposals that should have been reviewed over the past week, two were proposed to voice support for human rights, particularly those of jailed Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波), who won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, and other dissidents in China.
The Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) proposal, if passed, would “urge” China to “be nice to dissidents,” and to let Liu “out of prison as soon as possible.”
The proposal also called on China to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as soon as possible, and to carry out political reforms and democratization.
The proposal, which was initiated by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), would require a binding legislative resolution obliging the administration to issue a formal request for the release of Liu and another request for ratification of the international covenant and for “concrete measures” taken by China to improve its human rights conditions.
The fact that legislators were preoccupied with political interests when wrangling over the NHI bill this week, while failing to pass the two proposals before Friday — International Human Rights Day — deserves serious scrutiny.
Neither party put forth any motion to move the two proposals from the very bottom of the agenda to the top.
One can’t help but wonder what could have been their motives.
The proposals, though similar, would have conveyed meanings of different magnitude, if they had cleared the legislative floor in time.
The KMT’s proposal would demonstrate the pubic’s concerns, though it would have been weaker because of its wording — pointing to Liu’s and other Chinese dissidents’ human rights conditions and expressing the public’s hope that China will democratize within a short period of time.
The DPP’s proposal would have symbolized pressure from the general public to compel the KMT government to show support for Liu and other dissenters in formal documents.
Moreover, the DPP’s proposal would have also pressured the government to tell Beijing loudly and clearly that Taiwan would like to see concrete actions taken to protect human rights in China instead of issuing a simple call to set Liu free.
Legislators gave up a very good opportunity to give the two proposals momentum by making them binding legislative resolutions, especially when China blocked Liu or any close family member from receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on Friday, as well as blocking 1.3 billion people in China from accessing reports of the award ceremony.
When awarding the Asia Democracy Award to India’s Rescue Foundation on Friday, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said: “Our concern for human rights transcends nationality and borders.”
What he should have also said was: “Our concern for human rights goes beyond political division” and accounted for the reasons why the two human rights proposals, which stand for a universal value and should not need further debate, were put on hold, buried under piles of bills.