China fired a shot across the bow of legal activist Chen Guangcheng (陳光誠) on Thursday with a thinly veiled warning about his planned visit to Taiwan next month. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊) said that as a Chinese citizen, Chen “should know how to protect the country’s dignity and fulfill his responsibilities as a citizen.”
Hong’s comments showed once again that Beijing’s hubris knows no bounds. It is not Chen that needs to act in a manner that befits China’s dignity; it is Beijing’s mandarins and apparatchiks, whose years-long thuggish harassment of Chen, even after he served a prison sentence on trumped-up charges, forced him to make a headline-grabbing escape from his Shandong Province home in April last year.
It was interesting that the international news agency that reported Hong’s warning went on to say that China has been largely silent on the issue of Chen since he fled from house arrest and took refuge in the US embassy in Beijing. Chinese authorities may have been “silent” on Chen, but their actions toward members of his family after his escape have spoken loudly.
Authorities in his home village have shifted their assaults, both physical and legal, to members of his family — despite Beijing’s pledge to him and the US that his family members would not be harmed.
In December last year, Chen’s nephew, Chen Kegui (陳克貴), was jailed for more than three years for assaulting officials — armed with wooden clubs — who stormed his house looking for his uncle after his escape. Earlier this year Chen Kegui was diagnosed with appendicitis, but prison authorities are refusing to allow him to undergo surgery.
Chen Kegui’s father, Chen Guangfu (陳光福), said two men in their 20s attacked him for several minutes on May 9 as he was heading home to Dongshigu Village. That attack came after weeks of nighttime harassment in which rocks, bottles and dead chickens were thrown at his home. He also said that officials told his wife that they plan to indict her for harboring her son after the clash that landed him in prison.
These actions demonstrate that Beijing’s promises count for nothing. Thugs with sticks have clout, not Beijing’s promises.
Chen Guangcheng’s scheduled arrival on June 23 is also making the authorities in Taipei nervous. His host, the Taiwan Association for China Human Rights, has complained that it is taking months to arrange an entry permit for him. The Mainland Affairs Council is using paperwork as an excuse for the delay. Chinese officials and other tourists have been waved through with far less documentation.
Chen Guangcheng is expected to deliver a speech at the Legislative Yuan and talks at several universities. No word yet on whether President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is willing to meet with him. A snub would be very awkward for Ma, since his former Harvard University mentor Jerome Cohen will be accompanying Chen Guangcheng on his trip and it would be hard for Ma to see Cohen, but not his traveling companion.
Ma has claimed that his administration has frequently voiced its concerns about human rights issues in China and has promised to continue to pay close attention to them. In a ceremony marking World Freedom Day on Jan. 23, he said: “Taiwan’s ultimate goal is to maintain peace in East Asia and to allow people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait to pursue the values of freedom and democracy.”
He has also said he hoped freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law could be taken up in cross-strait talks in the near future.
Chen Guangcheng’s visit will provide Ma with the chance to show he is made of more than platitudes and promises. He does not have to worry about angering China because it is a given that Beijing will be upset. Ma should also know how to protect the country’s dignity and fulfill his responsibilities. Actions speak louder than words.