A few weeks ago I wrote an article about the Bo Xilai (薄熙來) dismissal in which I argued that his case was illustrative of the endemic corruption in China and that it would be good for Taiwan to build better firewalls between itself and China so that it is better protected when things go wrong in Beijing (“Leading by example is a good way to influence,” April 30, page 8).
This time I would like to focus on a very different case: that of the blind human rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng (陳光誠), who was able to come to the US with his family last week, but only after protracted high-level negotiations between the US and China. The Chen case attracted widespread international attention because of the outrageous injustice he and his family had to suffer at the hands of the Chinese authorities.
However, Chen was lucky: He had many supporters and the Western media were able to highlight the case and bring it to the attention of the international public. Many millions of people in China are less fortunate and have to suffer in silence and obscurity. The basic problem is that China still languishes under an authoritarian political system, in which there is no justice or freedom to speak out.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the military, the People’s Armed Police and a wealthy elite become more corrupt by the day, while the average citizen has very little room for maneuver and cannot speak out against injustice at the risk of ending up in prison or worse.
How does this connect to Taiwan? My main point is that China is becoming increasingly corrupt and repressive, and that it would therefore be prudent to keep a safe distance from China and work toward a future in which Taiwan is a full and equal member of the international family of nations. The people of Taiwan worked so hard to achieve democracy only 20 years ago and they need to keep working hard to safeguard that democracy.
Erosion of democracy and human rights is not something that happens overnight, but is a process in which these freedoms are slowly whittled away. If Taiwan is to be a bulwark for democracy in East Asia, its people need to stand up and speak up when they see injustice. This is especially important when this injustice takes place in China: the CCP regime thinks it can gradually take over Taiwan by undermining its democratic foundations. It needs to hear loud and clear that the people of Taiwan will defend not only their own democracy and human rights, but will also speak up for freedom and justice elsewhere.
This voice for freedom and justice needs to be raised in the face of Chinese repression in Tibet and East Turkestan (Xinjiang Province) and also in regard to what the CCP government is doing to its own people.
That is why the people of Taiwan need to strongly express themselves in support of Chen.
In closing, I would like to paraphrase the famous quote from the German pastor Martin Niemoller, who criticized the inaction and hesitance of the German intelligentsia to speak out during the Nazi rise in the 1930s.
In the present circumstance, this quote might read as follows: “First they came for the Tibetans, and I did not speak out because I was not a Tibetan. Then they came for the Uighurs, and I did not speak out because I was not a Uighur. Then they came for Chen Guangcheng, and I did not speak out, because I was not a blind lawyer. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
That is why it is essential for the Taiwanese people to speak out whenever they see injustice, in Taiwan, in China or elsewhere.
Nat Bellocchi served as chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan from 1990 to 1995. The views expressed in this article are his own.
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