Taiwan steps up police protection for pundits denounced by China

Beijing will sanction five Taiwanese media commentators for 'inciting hostility and confrontation' with China.
By Huang Chun-mei for RFA Mandarin
2024.05.16
Taiwan steps up police protection for pundits denounced by China (Bottom) Chen Binhua, spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, gestures during a news conference in an undated photo. (Top, L to R) political commentators Liu Bao-jie, Lee Zheng-hao, Wang I-chuan, Yu Pei-chen and Edward Huang.
RFA Mandarin graphic

Democratic Taiwan has stepped up security protections for five prominent political pundits sanctioned by China for spreading "false information," criticizing the move as a violation of the island's democracy ahead of the inauguration of President-Elect Lai Ching-te, Beijing's least-favored candidate in January's elections.

China's Taiwan Affairs Office on Wednesday said it would "punish" Wang I-chuan, who holds a high-ranking position in the island's ruling Democratic Progressive Party, Taoyuan city councilor Yu Pei-chen, New Taipei city council election candidate Lee Zheng-hao, TV talk show host Liu Bao-jie and political commentator Edward Huang.

Chinese officials accused the five, all of whom make regular appearances in Taiwanese media, of "spreading falsehoods and negative information" about China and creating division, but without giving specific examples of their alleged comments.

The move signals that tensions in the region are unlikely to abate with the inauguration of Lai, whose platform is highly similar to that of outgoing Democratic Progressive Party President Tsai Ing-wen.

The commentators' remarks had "deceived some people on the island, incited hostility and confrontation between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, and hurt the feelings of compatriots on both sides," Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson Chen Binhua told a news conference in Beijing on Wednesday.

While the threatened sanctions -- which will likely mean entry bans for the pundits and their families and bans on doing business with any company associated with them -- are largely symbolic, Chen also took aim at Lai, calling on him to choose between peace with China or "the evil path of provocation and confrontation."

He said the sanctions would be similar to those applied to Taiwan's premier, foreign minister and parliamentary speaker in 2021.

Propaganda and economic pressures

China has refused to deal with Tsai after she rejected the idea that Taiwan is part of China following a landslide election victory in 2016. She was re-elected in another strong victory in 2020, while remaining resistant to Beijing's insistence on "unification."

While Beijing has never ruled out a military invasion to enforce its territorial claim on Taiwan, it has more recently vowed to achieve "peaceful unification" with the island through propaganda and economic pressures.

Last week, it emerged that Taiwanese artists working in China – a highly lucrative market for actors, celebrities and musicians fluent in Mandarin – are routinely required to sign agreements pledging not to oppose China’s claim on the island if they want their work to be publicly accessible.

Taiwan has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party, nor formed part of the 74-year-old People’s Republic of China, and most of its 23 million people have no wish to give up their sovereignty or democratic way of life to be ruled by China, according to multiple public opinion polls in recent years.

"[Taiwan] is a democratic country where people's freedom of expression is clearly protected by the Constitution, and China has no right to interfere in that," Olivia Lin, spokesperson for the Presidential Office, said in a Facebook post on Wednesday.

Lin said the Chinese Communist Party has always dealt with disagreement by using "threats and suppression."

"They're now trying to extend that to Taiwan in violation of our democracy and freedoms, naming and threatening media commentators and their families," Lin said, adding that the move would only fuel distrust of China among Taiwan's 23 million people.

"The government will make every effort to ensure the safety of everyone concerned," Lin said. Interior Minister Lin Yu-chang said in a Facebook post that he had instructed the National Police Agency to ensure the safety of the five media personalities and their families, Taiwan's Central News Agency reported.

Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council said freedom of speech is protected in Taiwan, and challenged Beijing to deal more confidently with the island's "free, democratic and diverse society."

‘Highest medal of honor’

Lee Cheng-hao laughed off the sanctions at the start of his show on Wednesday, saying, “My phone exploded with messages when I was on my way into the studio this morning. This is unbelievable!”

Meanwhile, Yu described China's sanctions in a Facebook post as "the highest medal of honor." 

"The ‘commie’ Taiwan Affairs Office finally put me on its blacklist!" he wrote, thanking the "enemy forces" for the validation, and vowing to continue to "fight communism and love Taiwan forever."

China's sanctions come after the Mainland Affairs Council warned Taiwanese to reconsider non-essential travel to China in the wake of a slew of national security legislation that it said could put them at risk of detention, interrogation and imprisonment.

"Taiwanese citizens are constantly at high risk of mainland Chinese authorities determining that they have crossed a national security red line," it said in a May 9 statement on its website.

"There have been several instances in recent years in which Taiwanese citizens were falsely accused of offenses against national security during their visits to China," the statement warned. "They were subsequently tried, imprisoned, and some of them were even sentenced to 'deprivation of political rights,' a punishment that prevents Taiwanese citizens from returning to Taiwan despite the completion of their prison sentence."

Since amendments to the Counter-Espionage Law took effect last July, some Taiwanese citizens traveling to China for religious, academic or business purposes have "experienced prolonged interrogations or inspections of their electronic devices such as cellphones and computers at the airport; some of them were subjected to detention or interrogation after entering mainland China," the statement said.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Joshua Lipes.

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