Sat, Jun 04, 2011 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: Taiwan must push democracy, activists say

PRICKLY:Issues such as the release of jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo ‘deserve a place at the table’ in the cross-strait negotiations, activist Wang Dan says

By Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  Staff Reporter

While Taiwan is considered to play an important role in helping boost democracy in China, it doesn’t work out when the government is dormant in this regard, activists and academics say.

Wang Dan (王丹), a student leader in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and now a visiting professor at National Tsing Hua University, has publicly called for President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to take part in a vigil for the Tiananmen Square Massacre victims tonight, despite not holding out much hope that the president will make an appearance.

Wang said there has been a clear difference in Ma’s attitude toward the Tiananmen Square Massacre before and after he was inaugurated as president in 2008.

“I can’t fathom why,” Wang said. “President Ma should have been an advocate for democracy instead of being evasive on the issue. He needs to understand that there is a certain degree of conflict between the rulers and the people in China. When he gets too close to the rulers, he keeps himself at a distance from the people.”

Wang said he understood that Ma’s hesitation lies with concerns about possible disputes over his plan to advance cross-strait relations. Wang said he did not share that opinion.

“I don’t consider the worry necessary. First of all, from the viewpoint of Taiwan, economic concerns should not overrule a sense of morality. There are many other values that are cherished by Taiwan and they are not less important than economic concerns,” he said.

“Secondly, outwardly China talks about democracy and human rights too. How could it be that cross-strait relationships would suffer a reversal just because Taiwan brings up these issues with China? It won’t happen,” he said.

Like many pro-democracy activists, Wang said he wished Ma would strengthen his support for advocating democracy in China.

Issues such as the release of jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波) and Chinese artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未) “deserve a place at the table” in the cross-strait negotiation mechanism or the routinely held meeting between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Wang said.

Wang also urged the Ma administration to push through legislation on political asylum. Many pro-democracy dissidents have made their way to Taiwan from China via illegal means, but they have not been granted residency rights or permanent resident status.

The lack of a law on asylum seekers has been used by the government as an excuse, but that seems unconvincing and even misguided to human rights activists.

There are currently eight Chinese democracy activists in Taiwan, each with a monthly stipend of NT$20,000 handed to them by the National Immigration Agency.

Among them, Chen Rongli (陳榮利), who spent eight years in prison for attempting to form the China Democracy Party in Jiangsu Province, was the first to flee to Taiwan to escape police harassment and stints of forced re-education after his release from jail in 2003.

Since arriving in January 2004, he has been in limbo.

The activists have been exempted from criminal penalties for illegal entry, but they are denied the right to citizenship and are therefore unable to find jobs, they are not covered by the national health insurance system and they are subject to strict regulations if they want to enroll at a school.

“It’s a general perception that we do not think Ma cares that much about the democratization of China,” Chen said. “He makes statements on June 4 every year, but that’s not enough. We hoped that he could turn that talk into action.”

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