Amid a seemingly endless spate of diplomatic setbacks, President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration has sought to consolidate ties with what it called “like-minded nations” in an effort to make up for its loss of diplomatic allies to Beijing.
However, the execution on Friday last week of Lee Hung-chi (李宏基), the Tsai administration’s first since taking office in 2016, appears to have put a damper on that endeavor.
As the name suggests, what the Tsai administration likes to call like-minded nations are countries that embrace democracy and believe that protecting universal values such as freedom, human rights and equality is essential to the creation of a better world.
To these countries, Taiwan has painted a rather rosy picture of itself. It has repeatedly received good democracy ratings in Freedom House reports. It has worked to improve the treatment of minority groups and migrant workers. It is also poised to become the first Asian nation to legalize same-sex marriage.
Perhaps it is due to Taiwan’s remarkable achievements in these areas compared with the rest of Asia, or maybe it is simply because of a need to counterbalance Beijing’s growing power and influence, that like-minded countries, including the US and Germany, have been raising their voices against China over its bullying of Taiwan.
Their officials and lawmakers have spoken up in Taiwan’s defense more frequently and have adopted a harsher tone about China than they did before.
In her first public meeting with American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Director Brent Christensen last month, Tsai called these expressions of support “the kind of voice of justice Taiwanese need.”
However, in a regrettable departure from Tsai’s previous statements that “abolition of the death penalty is a universal goal,” her government last week executed Lee, who was sentenced to death for killing his ex-wife and, while attempting suicide, their six-year-old daughter in 2014.
Some of the nation’s “like-minded” friends were quick to denounce the execution, which appeared to confirm a July report by news Web site ETtoday, which quoted sources as saying that the Tsai administration was mulling executing death row inmates to salvage its approval ratings ahead of the Nov. 24 local elections.
As could be expected, on Monday, German Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid Baerbel Kofler expressed her deep regret over the execution.
However, what drew the media’s attention was the headline that the German Institute Taipei — the country’s representative office — gave to the statement when it shared it on Facebook on Tuesday.
The Chinese-language headline originally read: “Human life is valuable, but it was sacrificed in exchange for votes.”
It was later changed to “Human life is valuable, but it was sacrificed for political aims.”
The headline, whether in its initial or revised versions, shows how the nation’s “like-minded” friends perceive the Tsai administration’s decision to end Taiwan’s de facto moratorium on capital punishment, which had been in place since May 2016.
They did not simply see it as enforcement of Taiwan’s laws, which still include the death penalty, but as a politically motivated move by a government that often cites Taiwan’s human rights record and democratic achievements in its efforts to enter into alliances with the West.
The execution might help the Tsai administration win a few votes from the conservative community in the upcoming election, but the cost could outweigh the gains, especially when it sows doubt among Taiwan’s European allies about how determined the nation really is to follow in their footsteps and embrace progressive values.
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