Taiwan is four days away from the presidential and legislative elections, and flashpoint controversies are all but a given. Most recently, Lin Ching-yi (林靜儀), spokeswoman for President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) campaign office, became the latest figure to experience the f ull weight of the public gaze.
In an interview published on Friday last week by broadcaster Deutsche Welle, Lin said that, in terms of national sovereignty, advocating unification is tantamount to treason.
Her statement made headlines, and although Lin initially defended herself by accusing the China Times of misquoting the original report, she announced her resignation two hours later.
While she apologized for her “imprecise” wording, in reality it was anything but.
In the interview, Lin clarified that China constantly threatens the nation’s sovereignty and “continually threatens to use military force to invade Taiwan.” Therefore, she said advocating “this kind of” unification is tantamount to treason.
This definition is supported by articles 103 and 104 of the Criminal Code, which stipulate penalties for colluding or conspiring to collude with a foreign power to start a war against the Republic of China (ROC) or subject its territory to a foreign state, while Article 115-1, which was added last year, specifies that it also applies to China, Hong Kong and Macau.
Lin also said that her proposition was true “on many fronts,” especially after last year’s amendments to five acts on national security that would punish retired military officers for attending political or military events in China, as these could “cause great damage to national sovereignty.”
More broadly, treason can be defined as attempting or colluding to undermine one’s own state. Would the ROC not cease to exist if it were unified with China? This would naturally constitute undermining the state.
Lin was not wrong in making her statement, but she did make a mistake by resigning.
Many voters will be going to the polls on Saturday with the Hong Kong protests and China’s plans to implement its “one country, two systems” framework in Taiwan at the front of their minds.
One of Tsai’s biggest assets is her anti-China stance in contrast to her competitor, Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜), but if Tsai and her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) keep equivocating on this point, they could lose the trust of their supporters.
Although she was not incorrect in the concerns she expressed, Lin cowed to pressure from the pro-China camp the same day the interview was published, as the DPP scrambled to control any damage.
Who exactly were they afraid of offending? The DPP was never going to receive the pro-unificationist vote, while backtracking so quickly insinuates that it is not willing to defend its beliefs, a necessary skill when facing off against China.
Lin even fell prey to the same obstructionist forces of fabricated and sensationalized news the DPP has been decrying the entire election season — what kind of message does that send days after the Anti-infiltration Act (反滲透法) cleared the legislative floor?
Critics have already cast doubt on the act’s potential effectiveness, citing its relatively light penalties and narrow scope. The DPP’s reaction to the “treason” controversy casts further doubt on whether it would risk a political backlash by implementing the act.
The threat posed by China is undeniable, but it cannot be solved through politicking. A courageous and concerted effort is needed to safeguard against this threat, whether external or internal.
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