Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng (陳光誠) headed back to the US on Thursday at the end of an 18-day visit that served to highlight the disconnect between what Taiwan’s government says it represents and the actions of its officials.
On the first day of his visit, Chen advised Taiwanese to stand firm on the nation’s democracy, noting that its existence gave the lie to Beijing’s assertion that democracy is not suited to the Chinese world. Vowing to return to China one day, he said his persecution by Chinese authorities was the result of having “struck Beijing on its Achilles’ heel.”
However, the reaction of government leaders in Taipei to Chen’s visit showed that democratic activism has also become an Achilles’ heel for officialdom in Taiwan, a trait that has become increasingly clear in recent years each time there is public resistance to questionable development schemes and construction projects that severely damage the environment.
While Chen’s trip was intensely covered by the local media, top officials, including President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), reacted as if he were a carrier of bubonic plague instead of a promoter of the rule of law and democratic rights.
What made Wang’s reluctance to meet with Chen even sadder than Ma’s — due to Wang’s “unpredictable” schedule and Chen’s “settled” itinerary — was that Wang is president of the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy. The government-funded institution was established to support people and groups that promote democracy and human rights. Perhaps Wang failed to read the part of the foundation’s mission statement that says it is “committed to the vision of working together with like-minded organizations and individuals … to advance a new wave of democratization worldwide.”
Maybe for Wang, who obviously does not want to rock the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) boat over China, Chen is not “like-minded” enough. Ma’s unwillingness to meet with Chen was just another example of his aversion to people who remind him that he should behave as the president of a nation that is not run by Beijing. While some analysts credit Ma for allowing Chen to visit Taiwan in the first place, given the refusal to issue visas to the Dalai Lama, Uighur rights activist Rebiya Kadeer and others on Beijing’s enemy list, it is little sop for the lack of spine he shows in refusing to stand tall before Beijing’s rulers.
However, Chen did not make life comfortable for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) either, saying after a meeting with DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) that “the concept of independence has become out of date in Taiwan.”
Nevertheless, his views did not deter DPP lawmakers and members from meeting him. Many have had more experience than their KMT counterparts of repression, torture and false imprisonment, and are able to overlook nationalistic differences in pursuit of common goals.
Perhaps they recognized his need to deprive Beijing of any “pro-independence” ammunition to use against him or, even more crucially, his relatives, who are being targeted by Chinese authorities.
Or perhaps they agreed with him when he said the future of cross-strait development should be decided by the people and based on human rights.
Chen said he was revitalized by meeting Taiwanese democracy advocates who had sacrificed their freedom in the nation’s democratization process and he was impressed by the passion of the Taiwanese.