A few weeks ago, I wrote about the “Jasmine Revolution” in North Africa and said how important it was for Taiwan to stand on the right side of history (“A chance to stand on right side of history,” Feb. 24, page 8).
Inspired by the “Jasmine Revolutions” in Tunisia and Egypt, anonymous netizens in China broke through official Internet censorship to call for a “Jasmine Revolution” in 13 different cities. They urged people to simply “stroll” through public places in the named cities on Sunday afternoons and smile.
However, even such playful expressions of dissent are not tolerated by Beijing, and the secret police worked overtime to suppress any discussion of the events in North Africa, even banning ban the word “jasmine” from Internet searches, cutting off telephone conversations that mentioned the word and — according to a recent report by Amnesty International — arresting more than 100 activists, many of them using Twitter and blogs.
Many Western academics working in China complained that control of the Internet became tighter than it had ever been, while reporters were told in no uncertain terms to stay away from the “strolls” on Sunday afternoons.
The reaction of the authorities to these events demonstrates that there is no leeway for the democratic expression of opinion in China. Any opposing views are immediately hammered into the ground. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has an unparalleled security system in place that is able to track dissent at a moment’s notice and its government cares little about world opinion. It believes it can act with impunity in repressing any free expression.
This has important implications for Taiwan. Taiwanese made the transition to democracy about 20 years ago and warmly treasure their newfound freedoms. The country has a democratic political system with important legislative and presidential elections due within a year. Taiwan needs to ensure that it can safeguard its democratic advances.
It can do so in a number of ways. First, by ensuring that the democratic system in Taiwan itself is fully functional and that checks and balances work as intended. The legislature needs to perform its duties as a check on the executive, while the judiciary needs to be fair and ensure due process of law.
Second, in its dealings with the PRC, Taiwan cannot fall into the “business-as-usual” trap. Authoritarian regimes generally like to “compartmentalize” — repress dissent internally and carry on as usual in dealings with the outside world. If Taiwan wants to help China become more democratic, it needs to speak out on the suppression of opposing views. It needs to condemn the harsh security measures put in place by the Beijing authorities and to express support for those put in jail for the peaceful expression of dissent.
If Taiwan is true to the principles of freedom and democracy, it will side with those in China who advocate freedom, such as Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波). If Taiwan sees itself as a beacon for democracy and human rights, it should warmly welcome Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and World Uyghur Congress president Rebiya Kadeer.
China will only change if it realizes that repression merely begets more opposition
Taiwan can help the jasmine flowers to bloom. Indeed, Taiwan’s existence as a free and democratic nation depends on the commitment of the government and the public to democracy. Allowing China to get away with its repression is not an option.
Nat Bellocchi is former chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan and a special adviser to the Liberty Times Group. The views expressed in this article are his own.
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