On Friday last week, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office announced that Taiwanese human rights advocate Lee Ming-che (李明哲) was under arrest in Hunan Province on suspicion of “subverting the state power.”
“He colluded with mainlanders, stipulated action guidelines, established illegal organizations, and plotted and carried out activities to subvert state power,” it said.
The statement added that Lee — who disappeared after he entered Guangdong Province from Macau on March 19 — “was put under coercive measures by security authorities in line with the law” and that “after interrogation, Lee and his group confessed to engaging in activities endangering national security.”
To people in Taiwan, and to observers in the rest of the world, this move represents yet another example of a repressive and undemocratic Chinese political system at work.
First, it is rather outrageous that Chinese authorities held Lee incommunicado for 68 days before formally “arresting” him. This is a violation of China’s own laws, and also the Cross-Strait Joint Crime-Fighting and Judicial Mutual Assistance Agreement (海峽兩岸共同打擊犯罪及司法互助協議), which requires prompt notification by either side and also stipulates family visits.
On April 10, Beijing prevented Lee’s wife, Lee Ching-yu (李凈瑜), from boarding a flight to Beijing by canceling her “Taiwan compatriot travel document,” and to date has failed to give her information on Lee Ming-che’s well-being and whereabouts, and has refused her requests to visit her husband.
Second, the charges against Lee Ming-che are simply not credible: He might have discussed Taiwan’s transition to democracy with Chinese friends online, but if that constitutes “subverting state power,” then by its very existence as a democracy, Taiwan is “endangering [China’s] national security.”
The most worrisome part of the statement is its reference to “coercive measures” and that Lee Ming-che “confessed to engaging in activities endangering national security.”
Beijing is openly acknowledging that it has used coercive measures against Lee Ming-che.
This is yet another sign of reprehensible behavior by Chinese authorities.
Third, Beijing is obviously using this case to put pressure on the Democratic Progressive Party government of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) to agree to the so-called “1992 consensus” and accept Beijing’s “one China” principle, which is seen by most Taiwanese as a slippery slope toward unification.
However, China’s handling of the case is backfiring: It is showing Taiwanese — who are immensely proud of their democracy — that there is a huge gap between civil liberties in Taiwan and China.
It is showing Taiwanese that China is increasingly violating the universal values of democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law.
Particularly among young people in Taiwan, the realization is growing that China’s political system is hostile to the freedoms they have grown accustomed to since Taiwan’s own transition to democracy in the late 1980s.
Until recently, the younger generation was open to interactions and exchanges with China: college graduates did not object to moving to China for a few years to gain experience and earn a living.
This is changing: Lee Ming-che’s case is showing Taiwanese — young and old — that Beijing cannot be trusted and that it plans to use ruthless power to force its will on people who express their opinions and exercise their freedom of speech.
Gerrit van der Wees is a former Dutch diplomat and former editor of Taiwan Communique, who now teaches Taiwanese history at George Mason University in Virginia.
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