Taiwan-based social media star says departure blocked by China

‘Lia the Anxious Housewife’ could be at risk of detention and prosecution over her support for Taiwan.
By Hwang Chun-mei for RFA Mandarin
Taiwan-based social media star says departure blocked by China The Taiwan-based political activist and social media influencer "Lia the Anxious Housewife" is being prevented from leaving China even though she has the right of permanent residency in Taiwan after marrying a Taiwanese man.
RFA screenshot from YouTube

A Taiwan-based political activist and social media influencer known for supporting the island's ruling Democratic Progressive Party is being prevented from leaving China, she told her YouTube channel in a recent upload.

The woman, who uses the handle "Lia the Anxious Housewife," already has the right of permanent residency in democratic Taiwan after marrying a Taiwanese man.

But the island's labyrinthine immigration processes require all Chinese nationals to show documents issued in China proving that their household registration -- which allows access to public services in a specific location -- has been canceled, which usually involves a trip back to a person's place of birth.

"Lia" traveled back to her hometown in the northeastern port city of Dalian, where she had hoped to get the documents she needed relatively quickly and return to Taiwan this month.

But the transfer of her case further up the official hierarchy and a prolonged official silence on her case has sparked fears that the authorities may be preventing her from returning to Taiwan.

"At first, things all went very smoothly, and I'd been hoping to go back to Taipei pretty soon. The people at the local police station were very helpful," she said in a Dec. 2 upload to her YouTube channel.

"I had been coming and going using a pass for residents of mainland China wanting to come in and out of Taiwan," she said. Now that my household registration has been canceled here in Dalian, it turns out the entry and exit bureau needs to issue me with a one-way pass ... to leave the country. But I haven't managed to get this one-way pass," she said.

She said local police had tried to follow up the matter for her, but the application for the pass was now at the provincial level of government, and Lia has been left in limbo with no Chinese ID card, which she had to turn into the authorities as part of the process.

The concerns for Lia's safety come after Taiwanese rights activist and NGO worker Lee Ming-cheh was jailed for five years for "subversion" in China, after being suddenly detained by state security police during a trip to buy medicines for his ailing mother-in-law. 

Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council said it had been in contact with Lia and would "handle the matter," amid growing concern that the mainland Chinese spouses of Taiwanese nationals could be increasingly vulnerable to persecution by the Chinese authorities amid ongoing tensions and the threat of a Chinese invasion to force "unification" on Taiwan.

“We have obtained the relevant information and are using existing channels and mechanisms to keep in touch ... and provide the necessary assistance," a council spokesman told a news briefing in Taipei on Monday.

Taiwan has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party, nor formed part of the 73-year-old People's Republic of China, and opinion polls have repeatedly shown that its 23 million people have no wish to surrender their sovereignty or give up their democratic way of life under Chinese rule, which is being offered under the same "one country, two systems" formula used to take back control of Hong Kong.

Democratic Progressive Party president Tsai Ing-wen won a landslide election victory in 2020 on a platform of standing up to China, prompting Beijing to step up pressure for "unification," repeated military incursions around the island and a program of disinformation and propaganda targeting the country's media and social media.

Taiwan's government will provide assistance to any Chinese nationals with permanent residency in Taiwan who are facing problems in returning after having gone to China to give up their Chinese household registration, a mainland affairs spokesman told journalists on Monday.

Current immigration law requires Chinese people who apply for household registration in Taiwan to give up their original household registration in China, the Central News Agency reported.

It said "special consideration" had previously been given to Chinese applicants for Taiwan permanent residency who were unable to return to China to apply for relevant documents for various reasons, including fears for their personal safety.

'Hostage diplomacy'

Wu Chien-chung, associate professor of general education at the Ocean University of Science and Technology in Taipei, said he believes Li is being prevented from leaving China due to her volunteer work for the Democratic Progressive Party.

"Absolutely, [that is likely]" Wu said, adding that Lia has likely become the latest victim of China's "hostage diplomacy."

He also noted that a more recent YouTube video on Lia's channel had been posted and then deleted, a behavior he said was "not normal."

He said Lia had been reported to the Chinese authorities by pro-Beijing Taiwan nationals as soon as she had arrived back in China.

"China has seized an opportunity here after some people tipped them off using their real names," Wu said. "We can see from the case of Lee Ming-cheh and Yang Chi-yuen [currently detained in China] that the Chinese Communist Party does engage in hostage diplomacy."

"They've found a vulnerability of Taiwan's, and so this is what they do."

Pro-government social media comments about Lia, who is currently quarantined in the southeastern port city of Xiamen, accused her of being a supporter of "Taiwan independence," an epithet also frequently applied by Communist Party supporters and media commentators to the island's ruling party and President Tsai.

Repeated calls to the Taiwan Affairs Offices for Liaoning province and Dalian city rang unanswered during office hours on Tuesday.

An official who answered the phone at Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council said they had no further comment when contacted for an update on Tuesday.

Taiwanese 'at risk'

Fellow Taiwanese social media star Shangguan Luan said Lia is in a vulnerable position.

"Specifically, those of us who voluntarily speak up for Taiwan, agree with Taiwan's stance [rejecting China's offer of 'unification'] and use their online influence to promote Taiwan's freedom and democratic system to China ... get a lot of trolling from the Little Pinks," she said, in a reference to Communist Party supporters online.

"That could make things difficult for us when we go back there," she said.

Wu said China is an increasingly risky place for anyone from Taiwan to travel to.

"Any Taiwanese person will be at risk if they travel to China now," Wu said. "It may become the norm in future."

He said even the content of social media comments or messages with someone in China could be used as evidence to support politically motivated charges against Taiwanese nationals who travel there.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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