Chinese activists transiting at Taipei airport say they’re seeking asylum

The three Chinese nationals received UN temporary refugee cards in Thailand but felt unsafe there.
By Xia Xiaohua for RFA Mandarin
2024.01.30
Chinese activists transiting at Taipei airport say they’re seeking asylum From left, Tian Yongde, left, Huang Xingxing and Wei Yani are seen at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, Jan. 30, 2024 after the three Chinese citizens jumped off a commercial flight to remain in Taiwan.
(Provided by Tian Yongde)

Three Chinese nationals who fled to Thailand in November and arrived at Taipei’s airport on Tuesday told Radio Free Asia they fear arrest if they return to Beijing and are planning to seek assistance from the Taiwanese government to move to a third country.

Tian Yongde, Wei Yani and Huang Xingxing all obtained United Nations temporary refugee cards in Bangkok after traveling there in November. All three arrived in Taiwan on a flight from Kuala Lumpur and had tickets to board another flight to Beijing. 

But in an interview with RFA late Tuesday, Tian Yongde said the three were instead preparing to pass through a security checkpoint at Taoyuan Airport in order to stay in Taiwan.

“I hope the Taiwan government will give me some time and let me wait here,” he said. “Taiwan is recognized for its high quality, and it is safe and secure to wait for a U.S. visa in Taiwan.”

Tian, 52, said authorities began keeping tabs on him in 2005 when he visited the home of Zhao Ziyang, China’s former prime minister who was removed from power in the wake of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre and kept under house arrest for 16 years.

After that, Tian was unable to work and was summoned by police many times for writing articles or participating in “group incidents.” 

RFA was not immediately able to verify the account of Tian and his traveling companions, but they forwarded images of the identification cards provided to them by the U.N. refugee agency.

“I was arrested twice for ‘subversion of state power’ in 2009 and 2011,” Tian said. “The first time, I gave materials to petitioners, and I was said to be illegally holding state secrets.”

The other two people – 53-year-old Wei Yani and 17-year-old Huang Xingxing – are mother and son. They are unrelated to Tian, and only met him once they arrived in late November in Thailand. They eventually made plans to travel together.

‘Unsafe in Thailand’

Wei said she was imprisoned four times in China for a total of 10 years for petitioning for basic rights for herself and for friends. Authorities accused her of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” and “subverting state power,” she told RFA.

She said she had trouble finding work after she was released from prison in June, and also had one more criminal trial pending.

“So I borrowed money from others to apply for a refugee certificate with my son,” she told RFA. “I just want to be able to move on from here [Taiwan] through media appeals.”

Tian recorded a video at Taoyuan Airport in which he said he feels more safe in Taiwan than in Thailand, where authorities have recently sent a number of prominent activists and dissidents back to China.

“Hello everyone, I am Tian Yongde,” he said in the video. “Because I feel unsafe in Thailand, when I came to Taiwan, which feels relatively safe, my purpose is to go to the United States.”

Wei said she and her son will seek asylum in the United States or the Netherlands if they are allowed to stay in Taiwan. In the future, she would like to help Chinese people petition for complaints.

“I still have more things to do,” Wei said, referring to her previous work with writing and gathering petitions. 

The Taiwan Immigration Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment by RFA on the three Chinese nationals.

Edited by Chen Meihua, He Ping and Matt Reed.

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