On Thursday, Taiwan, along with many other nations and the UN, marked Human Rights Day, and also commemorated the 50th anniversary of two treaties: the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) marked the day by presenting Nepalese activist Sunita Danuwar with this year’s Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award from the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy for her work against human trafficking.
The UN Human Rights Office used the day to launch a year-long campaign, titled “Our Rights. Our Freedoms. Always,” to highlight the inalienable and inherent rights of global citizens.
Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), who is not known for his eloquence, on Thursday was right on the money when he said that freedom and democracy have become a natural part of everyday life in Taiwan.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Day in China was notable for two events. The first was word that one of the nation’s most celebrated human rights lawyers is to go on trial on Monday for criticizing the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The second was a Ministry of Foreign Affairs press briefing at which spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) rejected a UN report critical of Beijing’s human rights record, use of torture in prisons, “black jails” and crackdown on lawyers and activists.
According to his attorney, Pu Zhiqiang (浦志強), who has been detained for 18 months as part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) crackdown on dissent, has been indicted for “inciting ethnic hatred” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” because of seven microblog posts, including one that questioned official media accounts of a knife attack blamed on Xinjiang Uighurs and one that accused CCP officials of lying.
Hua said that the UN’s allegations of rights abuses were indicative of “political prejudice” and a “lopsided” point of view, before trotting out the tired old excuse that China is pursuing a development path that suits its national and human rights conditions.
Beijing’s actions and comments serve as another reminder in this Taiwanese election season, if one was needed, that the gulf between China and this nation is far wider than the waters of the Taiwan Strait, regardless of the tired claims of officials on both sides of ethnic ties and aspirations.
The Ma administration, which ratified the ICCPR and the ICESCR in 2009, has, in true Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) spirit, used the two treaties more as a symbol of Taiwan’s role on the international stage than as guideposts for domestic policy. Yet its various attempts to backpedal on free speech, press freedom and the right of assembly have been stymied by the growing vociferousness of young Taiwanese.
However, Xi’s government, which loudly demands acknowledgement of China as a global power without showing much willingness or ability to fulfill the responsibilities of one, has shown an increasing inability to countenance even the mildest of critiques or calls to respect human rights. Clamping down on the media and the Internet and imprisoning civil activists and lawyers are signs of weakness, not strength.
Xi, crafting a cult of personality that harkens back to the dark old days of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東), is yet another in the long line of Chinese leaders going back hundreds of years who have only been able to look to the past for glory instead of seeking it in the future.