Taiwanese human rights advocate Lee Ming-che (李明哲) on Monday last week appeared in a Chinese court, where he pleaded guilty to “subversion of state power.” A detailed account of the charges against him was made public for the first time when the indictment was read out at the hearing.
However, rather than convince outsiders of Lee’s crimes, the indictment only exposed the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime’s vulnerability, if not the absurdity of the so-called charges.
China may boast all it wants about its growing military might, but the indictment against Lee has only revealed the fragility of its internal political apparatus. Online discussions of public policies and issues of public interest otherwise deemed common in democracies are greatly feared by Beijing as having the power to subvert the Chinese government.
The indictment stated that Lee and Chinese national Peng Yuhua (彭宇華) had since June 2012 been using online messaging for discussions that “arbitrarily distorted facts, smeared, and attacked the country’s current political system.”
“Between 2012 and 2016 Lee Ming-che, the defendant, had via social media platforms, such as QQ, Facebook, WeChat and the like, engaged in large-scale acts to defame and attack the Chinese government and the national social system, and incite others to engage in subversion of state power,” it said.
Taiwanese, especially younger people who were born and grew up in a democratic nation, could not help but scoff at the indictment, because the freedom of speech that they enjoy daily in Taiwan — including online chats on issues of critical importance to the nation or discussions meant to raise public awareness and help foster a healthy debate on public policies — is considered a crime by the Chinese judiciary.
By the CCP’s standards, all guests on Taiwan’s political talk shows known for their vocal criticism of the government, as well users of social media, including Twitter, Facebook and Professional Technology Temple — Taiwan’s largest academic online bulletin board — who engage in vigorous online discussions of political and social issues would be deemed just as guilty as Lee in the eyes of Beijing.
China in recent years has been stepping up its efforts to lure young Taiwanese through travel, summer camp activities and work exchanges. It has of late been targeting what Beijing dubs the “three middles and the youth” (三中一青) — residents of central and southern Taiwan, middle and low-income families, small and medium-sized enterprises, and young people — and the “one generation and one stratum” (一代一線) — the younger generation and the grassroots stratum — that it hopes would allow China to benefit from embracing Taiwanese talent while also furthering unification.
If Beijing only knew how easily the charges against Lee have served only to widen the gap between Taiwan and China, while undermining its appeal to Taiwanese on how “great the motherland” is and that “a complete unification of the motherland is a shared hope of Chinese people in China and overseas.”
Lee’s case is a prime example of how the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are drifting further apart, as China exposes its autocratic nature and Taiwanese feel ever more grateful for the free air they enjoy and their embrace of democracy.
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