Jun 07, 2011

Taiwan: President Ma Calls For China to Release Dissidents

In calling for China to adhere to human rights principles, Taiwan offers its experiences in embracing dissidents who can promote democratic thought.

Below is an article published by Taipei Times:

On the 22nd anniversary of China’s Tiananmen Square Massacre, President Ma Ying-jeou yesterday called on China to demonstrate tolerance and respect for Chinese dissidents and urged Beijing to release jailed Chinese dissidents Liu Xiaobo and Ai Weiwei.

In a written statement titled “The First Step on a 1,000 Mile Journey — A Social Value that Tolerates and Cherishes Dissidents,” Ma urged the Chinese government to push for political reform and promote freedom, democracy, human rights and law and order.

“The first step of political reform is to treat dissidents with tolerance and cherish their values and contributions to society,” Ma said in the statement. “I call upon the mainland authorities to do just that by acting soon to release Liu Xiaobo, Ai Weiwei and other dissidents”

Ma praised China for its rapid economic development over the past 20 years and for surpassing Japan to become the world’s second-largest economy, while participating in international affairs with the intention of “becoming a responsible member of international society.”

The development of democracy and human rights in China, however, are in sharp contrast with its economic performance, Ma said, adding that “the ongoing failure of the mainland authorities to redress the wrongs of the June 4th Incident” and the arrest of dissidents including Liu and Ai impede China’s “integration into the international community, and make it difficult for the country to emerge as a leader on the international stage.”

“Taiwan’s experience in transitioning from an authoritarian state to a democracy shows that reform, while not painless, is certainly no disaster. Rather, it is a new beginning. It brings stability and progress, and builds trust in the government,” Ma wrote.

“As we look back upon the June 4th Incident, we urgently hope the mainland Chinese authorities will have the courage to undertake political reforms and promote the development of freedom, democracy, human rights and rule of law,” he said.

Taking the example of late Taiwanese philosopher Yin Hai-guang, who was put under house arrest in the 1960s for criticizing the then-government, Ma said Taiwan has learned to become a democratic society and to respect dissidents thanks to Yin and other pioneers who promoted democratic thought, and “as Chinese people, we’d love to share our experience,” he said.

With the steady development of cross-strait exchanges over the past three years, Ma said, the Chinese government should initiate political reform along with economic development. Releasing Chinese dissidents as its first step would not only improve its international reputation, but also close the “psychological distance” across the Strait, he said.

The statement was made yesterday amid criticism from opposition politicians and critics who accused Ma of having softened his tone on the Tiananmen Square Massacre and China’s poor human rights record after taking office in 2008.

Ma’s failure to call for Liu’s release in an initial statement congratulating Liu for winning the Nobel Prize last year also met with harsh criticism from human rights groups and opposition politicians.

In a forum on Thursday, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen expressed regret over Ma’s relative silence on the issue in favor of facilitating ties with China, calling for more measures to support democracy in China.

Presidential Office spokesman Fan Chiang Tai-chi yesterday defended Ma’s stand on the Tiananmen Square Massacre, saying it has been consistent and that the annual statement clearly stated the Ma government’s expectation that China would promote the development of freedom, democracy and human rights.

In his statement yesterday [June 4, 2011], Ma said China ought to learn from Taiwan’s own experiences, and that as an important member of the international community the Chinese government had an obligation to face up to the events of June 4, 1989.

Ma said he had personally apologized to family members of dissidents persecuted during the heavy-handed rule of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in the years after it fled to Taiwan.

“Precisely because we have had these unfortunate episodes in our own past, we are more than willing as ethnic Chinese to share our -experiences and remind the mainland Chinese authorities of the need to be accepting of dissidents, and to appreciate their value to society,” he said. “When they are locked up and prevented from speaking, the true victims are not just the -dissidents themselves. All of society suffers when mistaken policies go uncorrected.”