Despite signs the Chinese authorities are allowing unprecedented access to information about next month’s elections in Taiwan, Beijing remains intransigent on certain issues it regards as lines in the sand and it is taking action to ensure that its control remains unchallenged.
A senior editor at Caijing (財經), an independent Beijing-based publication that focuses predominantly on finance and politics, was recently invited by the Lung Yingtai Foundation in Taipei to visit Taiwan for a month to experience the elections, said Bruce Jacobs, a professor of Asian languages and studies at Monash University in Australia and a specialist on Taiwan.
Founded in 2005 by a group of entrepreneurs and intellectuals, the foundation is committed to fostering cultural exchanges, intellectual dialogue and enlivening a positive civic spirit within a democratic framework. The foundation has previously invited Chinese academics and journalists to visit Taiwan on cultural exchanges.
However, the senior editor’s application to visit Taiwan was rejected by China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), Jacobs said.
Undaunted, the editor, whose identity could not be revealed for this article, decided to travel to Taiwan via Hong Kong. Within 48 hours of the editor’s arrival, the TAO had reportedly faxed a document to the magazine’s office asking it to explain what the editor was doing in Taiwan.
The office’s quick reaction raises the possibility that Chinese agents have been closely monitoring the activities of the foundation, or that someone in Taiwan alerted the authorities in Beijing to the senior editor’s arrival in the country.
Such monitoring on behalf of China would not be unprecedented.
In late September, Central Police University associate professor Wu Chang-yu (吳彰裕) was arrested for providing China’s Ministry of Public Security with information on the movements of Chinese dissidents in Taiwan.
The magazine had originally planned to run an article on how Taiwan’s democracy evolved, Jacobs said, adding that the foundation’s invitation to the senior editor was part of that effort.
However, ostensibly as a result of pressure from Beijing, Caijing has now canceled its coverage of the election until after Jan. 14, saying the subject is “too sensitive.”
The magazine, reputed for its hard-hitting investigative journalism and occasional criticism of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), has reportedly become the target of some factions within the ruling party, as some consider the magazine a tool of their enemies ahead of the 18th CCP Congress.
Contacted for comment yesterday, the foundation denied it had invited anyone from Caijing to visit Taiwan, saying the TAO’s decision to turn down a visa application by a reporter could be the result of the quota system regulating the number of Chinese journalists allowed in Taiwan.
The Taipei Times has been unable to determine whether the senior editor is still in Taiwan.
Jacobs himself appears to have become a victim of pressure by Chinese authorities on the magazine.
Early last month, a “commissioning editor” at the magazine approached Jacobs and asked him to write a “full and frank” article on Taiwan’s elections, with some emphasis on how Taiwan democratized.
“I asked [the editor] about the question of censorship and was assured they wanted the bold truth,” Jacobs said by e-mail. “With these assurances, I prepared a version and ... the only place I held back was in not calling the Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) regimes ‘colonial.’”
The commissioning editor made a few suggestions and Jacobs submitted a slightly modified version, he said, adding that at no point was there any indication of censorship.
However, the magazine informed Jacobs on Tuesday that it had not published the article because of the “sensitiveness of the election.”
Jacobs believes the article, like Caijing’s coverage of the elections, is likely to be published after the elections take place.