Barely a day has gone by in recent weeks without a report from China of police rounding up dissidents or religious figures as part of measures adopted by Beijing to stave off a so-called “Jasmine Revolution.”
For those on the receiving end of the repressive state apparatus, one small country across the Taiwan Strait has served as a beacon of hope — and in some cases as a refuge — for Chinese activists. A few received political asylum in Taiwan following the brutal crackdown in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.
Among those who made a new home in Taiwan while continuing the fight for freedom in China was Wang Dan (王丹), one of the student leaders of the Chinese democracy movement at Tiananmen Square, a role that landed him several years in prison before he went into exile in the US. Soon after receiving his doctorate at Harvard, Wang moved to Taiwan.
In Taiwan, Wang found not only an audience that was receptive to his views, but also support and a sense of security. It can be said that Wang had found a safe haven that allowed him to continue his advocacy for political freedom in China.
Then Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) stepped into the Presidential Office on May 20, 2008, with a mandate to improve relations with China. One of the many costs of that rapprochement has been Taiwan’s inability to criticize Beijing over human rights abuses, with the Ma administration often remaining silent in the face of terrible acts or reacting belatedly when it realized that silence risked hurting its performance at the polls.
For Wang, the first worrying sign that the environment was changing occurred in May 2009, when a planned meeting between him and Ma ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre was canceled.
Then came news on Friday from the state-owned Central News Agency (CNA) than Wang had “admitted” during a Taiwan High Court hearing to receiving US$400,000 in subsidies from former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁). Not only did Wang deny the claim, but there is nothing illegal about dissidents receiving money from friendly governments. Still, the implication was that Wang, by virtue of his contact with Chen, had done something illegal.
As far as can be ascertained, the news came from a single source — CNA, an agency whose journalistic neutrality under the Ma administration has come into question. We have every reason to believe Wang’s denial because if he was lying, he would be committing perjury one day after saying the opposite in court, which is hardly something a renowned dissident would want to add to his resume.
It could be that the CNA report was simply bad journalism, in which case the agency should respond to Wang’s request for an apology and try to determine where things went wrong.
However, in the current environment, and given three years of failings by this administration to clearly affirm its support for human rights in China, it is not infeasible that something more sinister is afoot.
Taiwan’s judiciary, for one, appears to have turned into an instrument for the KMT to discredit its opponents and anyone who had anything to do with the Chen administration, as was highlighted recently with the probe into thousands of “missing” government documents targeting 17 former top Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) officials.
While in the past, allegations of corruption against Chen were used to discredit other DPP members, it now looks like the Chen tar baby can also serve as a means to undermine those whom Beijing regards as its enemies — dissidents like Wang — all ostensibly in a bid to improve relations.
In Taiwan’s hyper-charged news environment, even the hint of suspicion, or guilt by association, can be enough to discredit an individual. Let us hope the truth behind this ugly affair is uncovered before Wang becomes its latest victim.
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