After US-based Freedom House published a report earlier this month that questioned the impact closer ties with China was having on Taiwan’s sovereignty, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lo Shu-lei (羅淑蕾) described the conclusions as “unfair.”
Addressing concerns over freedom of speech in Taiwan, Government Information Office Minister Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) said the government would assess the findings and make improvements to ensure a better ranking in next year’s Freedom House report.
Despite this olive branch, it took just two weeks for President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration to provide more ammunition for those who, like this newspaper, are deeply troubled by the increasing number of signs that rights and freedoms have been undermined since Ma took office.
In the most recent instance, the rationale behind the administration’s behavior was once again fear of aggravating Beijing, following recently improved relations.
In its latest salvo against freedom of expression, the Ma government effectively denied World Uyghur Congress vice president Omer Kanat permission to attend a screening of The 10 Conditions of Love, a documentary about his boss, Rebiya Kadeer.
Rather than deny him a visa outright — as it did with Kadeer by “blacklisting” her for three years — the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, likely acting on instructions from above, used the nation’s representative office in Washington to stall Kanat’s application until his day of departure came and went.
Little by little, individuals who are seen as a threat to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), from Kadeer to the Dalai Lama, are less welcomed by the Ma administration and certain pro-Beijing elements in the KMT — not to mention media conglomerates that are increasingly subservient to Beijing.
Not only do bans, direct or otherwise, as in Kanat’s case, signal that Taipei sides with Beijing on matters of ethnic identity, state repression and human rights, it also denies Taiwanese the right to learn from individuals whose history of dealing with the Chinese authorities could benefit everyone, as Ma pushes us ever closer to China — economically, culturally and politically.
While peaceful opponents of a repressive regime waste their time applying for visas that never materialize, the Ma government welcomes with open arms CCP officials who for decades have threatened this nation with war and blocked it on the international stage.
What is it that the Ma administration fears will happen if it allows enemies of the CCP to come to Taiwan? If it is indeed Beijing’s reaction, this would confirm that closer ties, as some have warned, invariably lead to Chinese leverage and opportunities for blackmail. Huang Chao-shun (黃昭順), the KMT candidate for the Nov. 27 Kaohsiung mayoral election, who accused Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊) of “ruining” the economy by inviting the Dalai Lama last year and allowing the screening of The 10 Conditions, certainly thinks along those lines.
Or is it, perhaps, the message that those individuals bring with them, salutary warnings about the dangers and consequences of dealing with an unyielding nationalistic party-state that brooks no opposition?
The Ma administration keeps saying that Taiwan and China should “put their differences aside,” and focus on common interests. It is becoming increasingly clear that two of the things they have in common is a disregard for human rights and freedom of speech.
Should this “Beijing consensus” ever gain traction in Taiwan, we could find ourselves heading down a very dark road indeed.
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