The lone figure of exiled Chinese author Ma Jian (馬建) being denied entry into his homeland last week should be enough to remind candidates in January’s presidential election of the need to approach China with the utmost caution.
The London-based Ma, whose application to enter China via Hong Kong on July 23 was turned down without explanation from Chinese officials, had previously returned home on several occasions since leaving in 1986. That he would be denied entry at a time when China is, by most accounts, seemingly in the ascendant, is a testimony to the uncertainty that haunts the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) amid domestic turbulence and an upcoming leadership transition.
Needless to say, a party that had full confidence in its ability to rule would not be preoccupied with the arrival of an author, however critical of the regime, on a mission to buy books in Shenzhen before returning to London.
The decision to ban Ma from entering China was in line with an “increasingly harsh” — Ma’s words — political climate in the country, one in which the CCP feels compelled to crush underfoot people like Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波) and artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未), whose only crime is to have espoused the “dangerous” idea of freedom, or to impose a media blackout on reports about last month’s high-speed rail crash.
It is in this context, one of heightened paranoia and repression, that Taiwan under President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is seeking to foster more amicable relations with Beijing. While it is most assuredly not of his making, the unfolding situation in China makes it incumbent upon Ma Ying-jeou to tread carefully in the development of cross-strait relations.
In addition, the tightening of security measures in China is not taking place in a vacuum, as the poison of repression radiates outwards and transforms everything it touches. Only the foolhardy would assume cross-strait relations are impervious to what is happening in China.
The implication is that from cultural exchanges to tourist arrivals, everything will be tainted by “the totalitarian regime’s inability to adapt to modernity and respond to natural yearnings for free expression,” as Ma Jian has said.
Rather than embracing increased liberalism, as Ma Ying-jeou claimed would result from exposure to free and democratic Taiwan, Beijing is seemingly going in the opposite direction. Stronger and wealthier though it may be, China is arguably more repressive today than when Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) entered Zhongnanhai. Years of investment have also resulted in a security apparatus that is far better equipped and efficient than it was a decade ago, enhancing the state’s ability to monitor, control and deny information.
In such an environment, it is highly unlikely that ordinary Chinese, to say nothing of CCP officials, will be in a position to learn from Taiwan’s experience. Or even if they are, there is little if any chance that they would place themselves in a potentially dangerous position by seeking to reproduce it on returning home.
Conversely, Beijing’s threshold of what it deems acceptable behavior on Taiwan’s part is likely to become more exacting, thus increasing the cost of interaction for Taiwanese. As such, unless contact with Beijing is calibrated to reflect the severity of the political situation in China, the immunization of Taiwan against some form of the Chinese flu is unlikely, which bodes ill for our freedoms and liberties. Perhaps even worse, it would provide a tacit seal of approval for a regime that violates the rights of its own people.
There is no need, nor is it desirable, for Taiwan to rush into rapprochement with China. It can afford to wait — and current trends in China make such patience absolutely imperative.
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