Thousands March in Democratic Taiwan to Reject Chinese Rapprochement or Rule

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china-taiwan-march-april-2019-crop.jpg Thousands of protesters gather outside City Hall for a rally in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, April 7, 2019.

Thousands of people took to the streets of Taiwan at the weekend in protest at China's proposal to govern the democratic island under the "one country, two systems" framework applied to Hong Kong.

"Resist Chinese annexation!" the protesters chanted on the streets of Kaohsiung. "Today Hong Kong, tomorrow Taiwan!" they said, chanting: “Reject ‘one country, two systems!'"

The demonstration, organized by Citizen Front Taiwan, also came out in protest at recent trips by Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu to meet with Chinese officials in Hong Kong and Macau, both former colonial territories subsumed under Beijing's rule in 1997 and 1999.

Between 2,000 and 3,000 protesters gathered outside Kaohsiung City Hall for a rally on Sunday.

Shouting "Shut up, Xi Jinping!" they tore up a giant poster of a Jan. 2 speech by Chinese President Xi Jinping's speech titled "Letter to our Taiwan compatriots," in which he insisted that Taiwan must be "unified" with China, and refused to rule out the use of military force to annex the island.

Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen replied at the time that Taiwan's 23 million people have no wish to give up their sovereignty, and that China should first move towards a democratic system.

Demonstrators also waved brooms, shouting "Sweep away national traitor Han Kuo-yu!", local media reported.

Citizen Front Taiwan founder Lai Chung-chiang hit out at Han for his meetings at China's liaison offices in Hong Kong and Macau, saying that he had "kowtowed" to the Communist Chinese regime's officials and endorsed the "one country, two systems" framework.

Lin Fei-fan, who led the Sunflower movement that occupied Taiwan's parliament, the Legislative Yuan, to oppose closer ties with China under then president Ma Ying-jeou, accused Han of "locking Taiwan into a one China framework" in pursuit of economic opportunity.

Lin hit out at Ma, who "placed all of Taiwan’s resources into China" during his presidency. "Are we going to go back to the old ways?" he said.

Eeling Chiu, march organizer and head of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights, said Han had attended the meetings without authorization.

"He didn't have authorization to go and meet with representatives in the liaison offices, and we believe that this was an extralegal activity," Chiu said.

"People came to this march today to protest against any politician who plays leapfrog in this way."

Among the marchers was a Chinese exchange student who has sought political asylum in Taiwan after live-streaming criticism of Chinese President Xi Jinping's removal of presidential term-limits last year.

Li Jiabao, 21, made the move after criticizing constitutional changes made by Xi in March 2018 that effectively allow him to rule indefinitely.

"This is Taiwan, not China, where there is no freedom of expression," said Li, adding that the march was his first public protest.

"It feels absolutely great," he said. "I have never enjoyed freedom like this in China."

Information warfare

Citizen Front organizer Shen Pai-yang said Beijing and Taipei are now engaged in full-on information warfare.

"Just you wait until there are surveillance cameras at the local store, at your gym, even in your home, and that all you can watch on TV are cables channels monopolized and backed by China," Shen warned.

"All you will see on TV will be speeches by Xi Jinping, and you'll have to worry about who is listening and reporting what you say back to China when you chat to someone at the market," he said.

"How will people make the right choices then?" he said.

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 handed back to the 1911 Republic of China under the Kuomintang (KMT) government as part of Tokyo's post-war reparation deal.

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.

But many fear that Taiwan could see the loss of its existing freedoms, should it fail to curb Beijing's growing influence on the island.

Erosion of freedoms

Hong Kong political commentator Ching Cheong said people in Hong Kong have experienced the erosion of freedoms, judicial independence and opportunities for political action since the city was handed back to China in 1997 under "one country, two systems."

"In the 20 years since the handover, the Hong Kong government has done a very poor job of protecting the boundary between the two systems," Ching said. "We could see from the [cross-border kidnapping] of [Hong Kong bookseller] Lee Po that a Hong Kong citizen can be captured and taken back to mainland China."

"When Lee Po returned to Hong Kong, he claimed that he had gone to mainland China under his own steam, but the Hong Kong government totally failed to pursue the matter ... it was never going to," he said.

Britain has expressed formal concerns via diplomatic concerns over proposed changes to Hong Kong's extradition law that would allow renditions of people claimed by China as criminal suspects to the mainland without recourse to a court.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said on Monday that other countries "have no right to interfere" in the internal affairs of China and Hong Kong.

Reported by Hsia Hsiao-hwa for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Lau Siu-fung for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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