Taipei Times (TT): President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) was dubbed “la tai mei” (辣台妹, tough Taiwanese girl) after she in January refuted Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) “five points” [that included a plan to explore a Taiwanese version of the “one country, two systems” formula]. However, in light of the protests in Hong Kong [against a proposed China extradition law], you have said that President Tsai would only truly live up to the nickname if she passes the draft refugee act. Why would you describe it that way?
Yang Sen-hong (楊憲宏): The reason I termed it that way is because remarks made by her are no different from those by political commentators. As president, what she should do is not a political commentator’s job, but concrete action.
Some are under the false impression that the proposed bill being pushed by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) must be facing opposition from the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). Wrong. When KMT Legislator Huang Chao-shun (黃昭順) was convener of the Legislative Yuan’s Internal Administration Committee, she was responsible for the draft passing its first reading.
We should complete legislative procedures for the draft.
Back then, DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) and then-DPP lawmaker Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁) supported it. Executive Yuan officials such as Minister of the Interior Hsu Kuo-yung (徐國勇) also supported it, but he said that it has to be passed at “an appropriate time.” This was the same response I got from other DPP lawmakers.
Who is to determine when the appropriate time is? President Tsai. They all said it is her call.
I think there is no more appropriate time than now. However, despite my repeated calls, there has been no response from President Tsai, which can be infuriating.
Hence I call into question whether she is really a la tai mei. If she were, she should pass the act immediately, because young people from Hong Kong, including [democracy campaigner] Joshua Wong (黃之鋒), have expressed hope that the act could soon be passed, which would give them a safety net.
They would continue protesting in Hong Kong, but [we] have to think about the future of these young Hong Kongers. They have fought so hard, yet in Taiwan we cannot even pass an act that might shelter them.
The draft and a proposed amendment to Article 17 of the Act Governing Relations Between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (臺灣地區與大陸地區人民關係條例) cleared the committee three years ago. All the draft needed was to go through the second and third readings, which could be completed in a morning. All that is needed is a word from President Tsai.
I surmise that she feels that passage of the act would displease China, but that would mean la tai mei is not an appropriate name.
TT: Given that the Hong Kong government has shelved its proposed extradition bill, is there less urgency to pass the refugee act?
Yang: It is still imperative. The concern is that the people of Hong Kong would face retaliation from Beijing.
China has undermined the “one country, two systems” model [for Hong Kong], but it dares not implement “one country, one system.” Hong Kong is neither a country, nor does it have a system. Young Hong Kongers have told me that in this situation, they are thinking along the lines of independence for Hong Kong. Of the young people who took to the streets this month, 40 percent harbor the position that Hong Kong independence is the way to go, as they no longer believe in “one country, two systems,” let alone “one country, one system.”
It is important that Taiwan helps them at this time. President Tsai should know this, because she has the whole state apparatus analyzing the situation.
TT: While accepting refugees is a manifestation of humanitarianism, there are concerns among Taiwanese, such as population density and social issues that might arise. There are also questions over whether the nation is in a position to help refugees when it is in dire straits internationally itself. Citing the example of Taiwanese human rights advocate Lee Ming-che (李明哲) [who is in a Chinese prison], some have said that Taipei cannot even protect its own people. What are your thoughts on these issues?
Yang: There is a misconception regarding population. Taiwan will have negative population growth from 2021 and its population could drop below 20 million by 2050. It would be an economic disaster for Taiwan if the population falls below 20 million.
As for social issues, look at the protests in Hong Kong. Two million people took to the streets, yet they were orderly and non-violent. Young Hong Kongers are outstanding; they are worth opening up to and embracing.
The fact that Lee was jailed in China and the refugee act has not been passed are both because of the government, which shows that it is incompetent.
With the presidential election next year, I wonder how President Tsai would react if KMT presidential hopeful Terry Gou (郭台銘) were to announce his support for the bill.
It passed under Huang’s watch and it took only 90 minutes to review its 17 articles, which means there is a high level of consensus across party lines.
TT: There is also concern that the bill could be used as a Trojan Horse, providing loopholes for members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to infiltrate Taiwan. Do you have anything to say about that?
Yang: Chinese infiltration has nothing to do with the bill. In fact, the rules could help deter Chinese infiltration, as once it takes effect, there would be an agency to handle such issues.
President Tsai has spoken of “refugee diplomacy.” With the legislation, Taiwan could join the international roundtable of nations that are helping refugees.
Passing the act would not mean opening the door to all who seek to enter. It would be a strong barrier, allowing the nation to help those who are truly in need and rejecting those who are not. Extreme vetting is a must for every country with a refugee act.
According to the draft, once it is passed and promulgated by the president, it would go into effect after a year. Detailed measures would be drawn up in this time.
However, until it is passed, there can be no concrete discussion on subordinate measures.
I agree that there must be measures in place to “veto” refugee status for those who gained it through deception to be the CCP’s claws. That is exactly what the US is doing, reviewing the status of those whom obtained refugee status in the past 10 years, but are on the payroll of the Chinese embassy, creating trouble for the US.
TT: If Taiwan passed the law, what would that say to the world?
Yang: The most important message would be that Communist China is a country producing refugees, while Taiwan is a country assisting them. That would reflect the reality of one country on each side of the Taiwan Strait.
There are 16 developed nations that assist refugees. They could form a refugee roundtable with Taiwan, a new form of diplomacy.
President Tsai talks the talk of “refugee diplomacy,” she should also walk the walk and we will be glad to help.
Time is of the essence when it comes to refugees. We look forward to President Tsai doing the right thing.
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