Taiwan needs civil society to rise up

By Shih Yi-hsiang 施逸翔  / 

Sat, Jun 29, 2013 - Page 8

While the mainstream media were focused on Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng’s (陳光誠) visit to Taiwan and the government could only talk about the state of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) colorectal polyps, a service trade pact between Taiwan and China was being signed by cross-strait negotiators following closed-door meetings.

Many authoritarian practices are being revived and incidents that undermine progress in democracy and human rights continue to occur, but society at large does not seem to care.

In Miaoli County’s Yuanli Township (苑裡), members of a self-help society that is opposed to the construction of wind turbines have repeatedly suffered abuse and arrests by local police, who are partial toward the German firm InfraVest Wind Power Co. The Yuanli group says InfraVest is destroying the local environment.

In Banciao District (板橋), at Jiangcui Junior-High School, police have also resorted to extraordinary measures against activists trying to protect trees from being cut down by the New Taipei City (新北市) Government.

Officers have refused to remove the handcuffs from activists, claiming they lost the key.

In yet another example, when villagers in Dongcing Village (東清) on Lanyu (蘭嶼), Orchid Island, opposed the construction of a cement-mixing plant to protect their traditional homeland, the Taitung County Government and Lanyu Township Office dispatched police to handle the protests and allow the company to proceed with the project.

Chen has said that Taiwan is a good example of democracy and freedom, but these incidents show that this value has become a thing of the past, with the remains crumbling fast.

Ma decided not to meet with Chen. Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) also found an excuse not to meet with the Chinese dissident.

Chen may be blind, but he sees things more clearly than most: “Whether they will meet me is not important. What counts is the reason. This is what is at stake between the free world and the authoritarian world.”

This is a statement that echoes the recent public debate about the manifesto Declaration of Free Men published by Taiwan Democracy Watch.

The declaration, subtitled “Reconstructing the relationship between Taiwan and China based on a human rights charter,” seeks to build defenses against any Chinese attempts in the foreseeable future to destroy Taiwan’s hard-earned freedom. It is doing so from the perspective of civil society and based on Taiwanese human rights and democratic values, while at the same time warning Taiwanese politicians not to secretly sell out the public.

The widespread public protests around the nation are fragmented and lack strategy, and workers are exhausted, but the Chinese threat remains and is aimed at the whole of Taiwan.

There is reason to remain pessimistic as to whether Chen’s visit will help increase awareness among the Taiwanese public of the lack of a human rights mechanism in talks between the Ma administration and China.

Yet civil society cannot afford not to think about these issues and face the challenges head-on.

Shih Yi-hsiang is executive secretary of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights and Covenants Watch.

Translated by Perry Svensson