Another missing person contacted their loved ones this week, but the news could hardly be considered good, either for the family or the world in general.
Chinese columnist and rights activist Li Xin (李新) telephoned his wife in Henan Province to say that he had voluntarily returned to China and was being held for investigation.
Given that he had fled the country after Beijing had pressured him to turn informer and he had been trying to seek asylum abroad, it is a very unlikely story.
Li is the second person to have disappeared from Thailand, only to recently surface in the hands of Chinese police; China-born Swede Gui Minhai (桂民海), a co-owner of a Hong Kong publishing house, also claimed his return was purely voluntary.
Thai authorities said they have no record of either man leaving the country, but that there is no indication that they were abducted.
However, given Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s well-publicized muffling of local dissent, not to mention his junta’s steadily growing military and intelligence ties with Beijing, it is not surprising that Bangkok is willing to appear clueless about Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) vanishing critics.
Yet it does not matter if you are not a critic of the Chinese Communist Party’s policies yourself; it is enough to be related to one. Just ask Bao Zhuoxuan (包卓軒), the 16-year-old son of Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Yu (王郁), who was abducted from a town in Myanmar in October last year and sent back to his grandparents in Inner Mongolia after his family tried to get him out of the country following his mother’s detention a few months earlier.
While China does not have the record of tracking down opponents abroad that the former Soviet Union had, it appears to be working hard to build one.
Such actions are not really new for Beijing: US-based Chinese dissident Wang Bingzhang (王炳章) was kidnapped from Vietnam in July 2002 and “found” tied up in a temple in China. Tried the following February on charges of spying for Taiwan and of setting up a terrorist group, he was sentenced to life in prison.
Despite Beijing’s willingness to ignore national boundaries in pursuit of its critics, there has been relatively muted protest about these kidnappings and illegal renditions. While the disappearance of Gui and four others linked to his publishing house/bookstore did trigger outrage in Hong Kong and elsewhere, the focus was more on Beijing’s contempt for Hong Kong’s Basic Law and its promise of the “one country, two systems” policy for the territory.
The US, the UK and several EU governments lost much of their moral authority to condemn such renditions through their own questionable actions as part of then-US president George W. Bush’s “global war on terror, but Beijing’s extra-territorial actions against its critics cannot be allowed to go unremarked — or without repercussions.
This is a baton that president-elect Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration should pick up and run with. Unlike the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government that it is replacing, Tsai and the Democratic Progressive Party have no skeletons in their own closet to worry about, unlike the KMT, with its shameful Martial Law-era record, which includes the murder of Henry Liu (劉宜良) in California and the deaths of Carnegie Mellon University associate professor Chen Wen-cheng (陳文成) and Lin I-hsiung’s (林義雄) twin daughters and mother in Taipei.
Taiwanese often say they yearn for a greater role on the world stage. Speaking out against Beijing’s illegal renditions and abuse of its citizens is a crucial role that Taiwan can play, one that can make clear in the minds of people in other countries that there is a big difference between Taiwan and China.
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