Taiwan has replaced Hong Kong as Asia’s “bastion of free speech,” as it has emerged as “one of Asia’s most vibrant democracies,” the New York Times said in an article published on Saturday.
Headlined “Asia’s Bastion of Free Speech? Move Aside, Hong Kong, It’s Taiwan Now,” reporters Chris Horton and Austin Ramzy wrote that Hong Kong used to be a haven for political fugitives and home to international media and rights groups in the Chinese-speaking world.
“In recent years, however, as Beijing has tightened its grip on the former colony, Hong Kong has been increasingly supplanted by Taiwan,” they wrote, adding that the shift was highlighted by Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) decision to open its Asian bureau in Taipei.
“Hong Kong was originally the first choice for the Asia bureau,” the article quotes Wuer Kaixi, an emeritus member of the RSF board, and one of the 1989 Tiananmen protest student leaders, who now lives in Taiwan. “But today China doesn’t just suppress its own people, it is now increasingly exporting that suppression to Hong Kong.”
The shift reflects Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) efforts to assert his control over China, including Hong Kong, the article says.
Horton and Ramzy talked to Lam Wing-kei (林榮基), one of the five men connected to a Hong Kong publishing house and bookstore who were abducted by Chinese security personnel in late 2016 and who is planning to reopen his bookshop in Taiwan.
“We Hong Kong people look to Taiwan for lessons,” Lam was quoted as saying. “And people in Taiwan look to see how the Chinese mainland controls Hong Kong.”
RSF Taipei bureau director Cedric Alviani told the newspaper that Taiwan has become an “island of stability” in a region where press freedoms are backsliding.
However, it also said that while Taiwan is relishing its new reputation, there have also been instances of it compromising on its political values to avoid angering Beijing, such as returning a Chinese activist seeking political asylum to China, or, citing Chinese journalist and author Zhao Sile (趙思樂), making it harder for Chinese activists to attend workshops or conferences in Taiwan.
Horton and Ramzy also talked to Yeh Chu-lan (葉菊蘭), the widow of democracy pioneer Deng Nan-jung (鄭南榕), who told them that Taiwan’s freedoms were not guaranteed.
“We could lose our freedom of expression any time in the face of Chinese hegemony,” she told them.
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