A U.S.-based sculptor is suing Taiwan's president, Ma Ying-jeou, and his government over the cancellation of a contract for the construction of a statue of the icon of the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement on the Taiwan-controlled island of Kinmen.
Las Vegas-based Chen Weiming said the Taiwanese government had bowed to political pressure from mainland China and breached the terms of a Jan. 18 contract between Kinmen county officials and his company for the design and construction of the statue of the Goddess of Democracy.
"April 30 is their last deadline for replying to us," said Chen, who said officials had ignored repeated attempts to contact them over the contract, which was canceled in an email from Kinmen county officials, warning him to "not proceed."
"It looks as if they don't plan to respond, and if this is the case, then we will be taking legal action."
Chen said Ma himself would be named as a defendant for interfering in the business agreement. "This was originally a contract signed between the Kinmen county government and us, which the Kinmen government wanted to cancel owing to 'concern from certain departments.'"
"According to our understanding, Ma Ying-jeou interfered with the implementation of the agreement, so that's why we will be naming him as a defendant," Chen said.
Sun Ping, a legal adviser to the group that had been working on the statue, said the case had two parts: "One is that we have hired lawyers in Taiwan to sue the Kinmen county cultural bureau for breach of contract, and the other is a civil suit in the state of Nevada, pursuing damages against the Ma government for interfering in the completion of the contract," he said.
Sun said that the cases would go to court in the absence of a reply from Taiwan officials by the end of April.
"In America, that's a pretty serious state of affairs, because the defendant then loses the right to defend themselves in court, and a decision will be made very quickly," he said.
Sun said the plan to build the Goddess of Democracy statue was part of a political statement that Chen's group wished to make to China.
"Of course we had hoped that they would support the Goddess of Democracy, because Taiwan's long-term security depends on there being freedom and democracy in the mainland," he said.
"Now, the administration of Ma Ying-jeou is distancing itself more and more for its support of the pro-democracy movement in mainland China," Sun said. "They are afraid that there will be some negative consequences to such support."
Kinmen county officials shelved the plan for the statue, which would have been visible from mainland China, shortly after signing the deal with Chen, local media reported at the time.
Officials said they had been unable to find a "suitable location" for the planned 30-meter (100-foot) statue, and denied that they had come under any political pressure.
Taiwan-based 1989 student leader Wu'er Kaixi was quoted as saying that the move, if politically motivated, would show that China was now more than able to exert its influence on life on the democratic island.
Just before the plans were shelved, Professor Xia Ming, a political science teacher at the College of Staten Island in New York, told a symposium on Taiwan's future that China had now extended its influence into every area of life in Taiwan.
"In Taiwan right now there is nowhere that is not influenced by the mainland," Xia said. "Taiwan's media, academics, and intellectuals are already beginning to show fear of the mainland and we can already see the effects in Taiwan today."
Ma, who cut his teeth as the head of the then Kuomintang (Taiwan's Chinese Nationalist Party) cabinet's Mainland Affairs Council in the 1990s, promised during his election campaign that his presidency would see further rapprochement with Beijing, which regards Taiwan as a breakaway province which it will "reunify" by force if the island ever declares formal independence.
"In the next four years, relations across the Taiwan Strait will be even more harmonious and mutually trusting, with less likelihood of clashes," Ma said in his victory speech.
"I will ensure that Taiwan has a lasting peaceful and stable environment," he said, using two of Beijing's favorite political buzzwords: "stability" and "harmony."
Taiwan has been governed separately from China since Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang forces fled there in 1949 after losing a civil war with Mao Zedong's communists on the mainland.
Official mainland Chinese media welcomed Ma's victory, saying it vindicated the signing of a 1992 cross-straits consensus on the island's future.
Reported by Xiao Rong for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.