Taiwanese police protection of visiting Chinese envoys has entered a newer and scarier phase. With an increasing number of official visits, such as when Chinese Minister of Culture Cai Wu (蔡武) visited in September and Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) came earlier this week, the National Police Agency (NPA) is having to work overtime to find ways to protect them, especially given the number of people in this country who want nothing more than to slap an oyster pancake in the Chinese officials’ faces.
The last thing the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) wants as it pursues negotiations toward unification with China is for some “Taiwanese extremist” to harm or embarrass the KMT’s Chinese Communist Party overlords as they parade around the nation signing agreements that undermine Taiwan’s sovereignty. That fear became a reality in October 2008, when pro-independence activists in Tainan roughed up ARATS Vice Chairman Zhang Mingqing (張銘清) as he was visiting the city’s Confucius Temple. Zhang cut his visit short and filed a lawsuit.
After that experience, the NPA mobilized huge numbers of police to stop protesters from getting anywhere near Chen and his entourage when he made his first Taiwanese visit the following month. At that time, some of the thousands of police lining the way to the Grand Hotel confiscated Republic of China flags, closed down a store playing Taiwanese music and even broke some protesters’ fingers in their zeal. However, this was too obvious in an open society where reporters can freely point out police abuses. The administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) lost quite a bit of support after that fracas.
Consequently, the NPA allegedly deployed a large number of plainclothes police officers wherever Chen went on his most recent visit. Northern Taiwan Society secretary-general Lee Chuan-hsin (李川信) hypothesized that they were dressed in civilian clothes because it allowed them to be more discreet. Their presence was evident when Northern Taiwan Society director Lin Kuan-miao (林冠妙), who was trying to shout at Chen at the National Palace Museum on Monday, was physically silenced and carried away by presumed plainclothes officers.
This type of thug-like, secretive police behavior sets a bad precedent for a country that is trying to distance itself from the darkness of the White Terror era. In those days, authorities could make a dissenter disappear in the middle of the night, never to be heard from again. Has Taiwan really traveled a long way from those dark days? As the NPA does all in its power to deter pro-Taiwan advocates from embarrassing Chinese officials, one wonders how far they will go.
The police protecting Chen have already begun to shed their uniforms, a step in the wrong direction as far as democracy and human rights go. What about the next Chen visit? Will there be a secret police force rounding up known independence protesters, jailing them for the duration of Chen’s visit on some trumped-up charge, like Beijing does with its dissidents?
If this trend continues, Taiwanese will eventually have to watch what they say and do whenever a Chinese official visits — a slippery slope toward a new “Red and Blue Terror” era. Taiwan’s freedom will only last so long as it doesn’t offend officials from Beijing, who don’t like to be asked hard questions or told to go home.