A student who publicly criticized ruling Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping on social media while studying on the democratic island of Taiwan has made a special appeal to the authorities to allow him to marry there.
Li Jiabao, who began his studies in Taiwan in February 2019, submitted a petition on Thursday to Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), the executive department that handles the island's troubled relationship with the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing.
Li has been stranded in Taiwan since he criticized Xi Jinping in a livestream in mid-March, shortly after China's National People's Congress (NPC) nodded through constitutional changes removing presidential term limits and enabling Xi to begin an indefinite term in office.
Since then, Li's Facebook account has been concerned with other things, including his new relationship with a Taiwanese woman, a fellow student, now his fiancee.
"I have met a wonderful woman, but I have no status in Taiwan, which has no law on refugees," Li told RFA on Thursday. "I want to hand in my marriage application today."
Li's marriage plans are being stymied by a requirement that he produce notarized, original documents from his hometown in China.
Taiwan currently requires cross-straits marriages to first be registered in China, before being registered by the MAC.
But Li says that he used his real name to criticize Xi, and that he would be risking political retaliation if he were to go back to China to get the necessary paperwork.
"Under normal procedures, there are a lot of documents that need to be notarized in China," he said. "But I am worried about a threat to my life or safety if I go back there."
Li is reluctant to talk about his parents, for fear that they will suffer at the hands of the Chinese authorities.
Asked how they took the news of his engagement, he replied: "They were shocked, but not too shocked."
Hopes for legal status
Li has now left his course at Chia Nan University of Pharmacy ＆ Science in Taipei, and has been eking a living in the cheaper south of the island, without proper documentation.
He has been unable to work, and hopes that he will gain legal status after marriage.
An MAC official said the application would be handled in accordance with current regulations.
While the administration of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) President Tsai Ing-wen is proud of its human rights record, Taiwan, which has a refugee law in the pipeline, is traditionally wary of granting political asylum to Chinese nationals for fear of triggering a flood of applications.
The Taiwan government granted Li a "special student visa" after he applied for political asylum last year, enabling him to continue his studies for a time.
But no decision has yet been forthcoming on political asylum. In the absence of legislation on refugees, Taiwan has tended to find workarounds if the authorities decide to allow someone to stay on the island, rather than issuing a blanket residency.
In Li's video livestream on Periscope, he hit out at a nationwide police operation targeting Chinese human rights lawyers since July 2015, and said he hoped China can one day take the path of democratic reform, as Taiwan once did.
"When Xi Jinping succeeded in eliminating his political rival [jailed former Chongqing party chief] Bo Xilai in 2012, he succeeded in becoming the most powerful politician in China in one step," Li said.
"Like many other ordinary people, I once had a hankering for the monarchy," he said.
But he compared China under Xi to an imperial tyranny presiding over an Orwellian dystopia.
He said the "martyrs" who died during the Tiananmen massacre that ended the 1989 student-led pro-democracy movement were all seeking freedom.
Li, who has received furious online abuse after his live-streaming session, has also said he fears being kidnapped by Chinese agents operating in Taiwan, and unofficially repatriated to face punishment.
His public criticisms of Xi come amid a very public debate in Taiwan over the Chinese president's claim that the island should be "unified" with the People's Republic of China, which has never controlled Taiwan.
A separate country
Li takes a view regarded as criminal by Beijing; namely that the island is a totally separate country from China.
President Tsai rejected calls from Xi on Jan. 2, 2019 to move towards "unification," saying that Taiwan's 23 million people have no wish to give up their sovereignty, and that China should first move towards a democratic system.
In the statement, titled "Letter to our Taiwan compatriots," Xi was insistent that China must be "unified," saying that China would make no promises not to use military force to annex the island.
But a recent opinion poll found that more than 80 percent of Taiwanese would reject Xi's offer to rule the island via the "one country, two systems" model used for the former colonies of Hong Kong and Macau.
Taiwan was ruled as a Japanese colony in the 50 years prior to the end of World War II, but was occupied by the 1911 Republic of China under the Kuomintang (KMT) government as part of the post-war settlement.
The island began a transition to democracy following the death of Chiang Kai-shek's son, President Chiang Ching-kuo, in January 1988, starting with direct elections to the legislature in the early 1990s and culminating in the first direct election of a president, Lee Teng-hui, in 1996.
Reported by Hwang Chun-mei for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.