A US professor who has just returned from a month-long lecture tour in China says many academics he met there “expressed dissent from the official party line on the sensitive issue of Taiwan.”
In an article published on the Washington Post Web site, George Mason University law professor Ilya Somin describes what he found to be surprisingly pro-Taiwan attitudes.
One academic said that if Taiwanese wish to be independent, “they should be allowed to do so,” Somin writes.
Another said that although he hoped that “unification” would come eventually, he opposed it at present, because “it would be a disaster for Taiwan,” as it would fall under the control of Beijing’s authoritarian regime.
“When I asked these intellectuals whether their views are shared by the general population, most seemed confident that they were,” Somin says.
“One told me that if the Chinese government were to allow a genuinely free election, the winner would probably be the Kuomintang [Chinese Nationalist Party, KMT] rather than the [Chinese Communist Party],” he said.
“Ironically, an American academic expert on China recounted to me that a pro-communist Chinese intellectual had recently told her that he opposed unification with Taiwan because such a step might force the government to allow free elections, which he too expected to be won by the KMT rather than the Communists — a result he did not welcome,” Somin says.
He adds that the growing prevalence of protest movements in China provides some support for claims that public opinion is aligned with that of liberal intellectuals.
“But it is very difficult to say if intellectual advocates of liberalization really have majority opinion on their side or not,” he says.
Somin lectured about property rights in China and Taiwan.
He presented a series of lectures at Zhengzhou University in China’s Henan Province and talks on property and eminent domain at the Unirule Institute of Economics think tank in Beijing.
He claims to have met “numerous” Chinese academics and students, as well as some government officials and other intellectuals.
“It was striking to me that most of the Chinese academics and intellectuals I spoke with are not fans of the country’s present authoritarian regime,” he says.
“In private and even semi-public conversations, many of them openly stated that they wanted the government to give way to a Western-style multiparty democracy,” Somin says.
He says the academics advocate freedom of speech and religion, and want free markets, private property and liberalization of the economy.
Somin is careful to stress that the people he talked with may not be representative of mass opinion.
“Despite such caveats, it is notable that there is at least a substantial number of Chinese intellectuals who not only want the regime to liberalize, but are willing to forcefully express such views to foreigners they do not know very well,” he writes.
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