China’s List of Taiwanese Independence Advocates Is Meant To Divide Taiwan

China’s List of Taiwanese Independence Advocates Is Meant To Divide Taiwan
Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images

What you need to know

The function of the list appears to be provoking Taiwanese to question the Taiwaneseness and pro-independence stances of those who are not on the list.

Many Taiwanese have been playing into the hands of the Chinese government in the wake of a recent media controversy surrounding an alleged “wanted list” of pro-independence political figures in Taiwan.

On October 15, Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing newspaper Ta Kung Pao (大公報) said it “learned from authorities” that the Chinese government is putting together a list of advocates for Taiwanese independence who it will look to imprison.

Those who “make outrageous pro-Taiwan independence statements, seek Taiwan independence, and finance separatist activities will be subject to harsh penalties with no statute of limitations,” the state-owned newspaper reported.

The report also said that independence advocates will be punished under the auspices of the Anti-Secession Law in 2005 and the National Security Law of the People's Republic of China in 2015.

Three days after the Ta Kung Pao report, Taiwan’s representative to Germany Jhy-Wey Shieh (謝志偉) posted on Facebook a photo of what he claims to be the proposed list. Shieh, a vocal supporter of Taiwanese independence, is found among its names. He provided no account of how he obtained the list nor did he provide any corroborating evidence of its authenticity.

While the list referred to in the Ta Kung Pao hasn’t been proven to exist, nor the Shieh document verified, Shieh’s post and the very specter of such list’s existence has definite political ramifications in Taiwan. All the names on the document in Shieh’s photo refer to Taiwanese, including high-level government officials like the premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) and Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), Taiwan’s representative to Japan and a co-founder of the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which Beijing considers independence-leaning.

Strangely, some of those listed have long passed away, such as Cheng Nan-jung (鄭南榕), a pro-democracy activist who self-immolated in support of freedom of speech in 1987.

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Photo Credit: AP/ TPG Images
Supporters of Taiwan’s presidential election candidate, Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), cheer during a campaign rally in Taipei, Taiwan, Jan. 10, 2020. Tsai is popular among young voters as a defender of Taiwan's democracy.

“If a Taiwanese person deserves to be beaten and killed simply because he or she pursues democracy and desires freedom, then let’s shout out: I’m proud to support Taiwanese independence,” Shieh wrote in the Facebook post.

By letting it be known through state media that a list of independence advocates is being drawn up, Beijing is attempting to divide Taiwan by drawing the boundaries of Taiwanese identity for the Taiwanese — at a time when supporting independence is becoming equivalent to rejecting China’s authoritarian rule and protecting Taiwan’s freedom and democracy.

Since President Tsai Ing-wen took office, China has been ramping up pressure on the island to force Taiwan into unification by sending fighter jets into its air defense zone. If the Taiwanese army “dares to open fire,” Chinese state media has said, “it means war.”

In Taiwan, sentiments toward China have soured further due to the yearlong pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and China’s efforts to block the country from participating in the World Health Assembly.

Meanwhile, Taiwanese people, especially the young generation, are showing their disapproval of the Chinese government by being vocal about protecting their democratic way of life. In October, a survey revealed that 82% of respondents in their twenties were willing to defend Taiwan if Beijing uses force against Taiwan for unification.

The media in Taiwan has called young people growing up in the post-martial law era the “naturally independent generation,” who mostly regard Taiwan as a sovereign state separate from China and are far less likely to see themselves as Chinese than older generations.

The function of the list appears to be provoking Taiwanese to question the Taiwaneseness and pro-independence stances of those who are not on the list.

If Beijing is arresting Taiwanese independence advocates, it does not need to prepare such a list in advance to do so, as happened to Lee Ming-che (李明哲), a pro-democracy activist and a former DPP worker. Lee was detained by Chinese authorities in March, 2017, and sentenced to five years in prison for “subversion of state power.”

“Beijing would like to see a divided Taiwan,” President Tsai Ing-wen told Time Magazine. This move would be of a piece with other attempts that the Chinese government has made to benefit from creating political division in Taiwan.

“When it comes to Taiwan’s sovereignty, democracy, and freedom, I believe our people are mostly in agreement,” Tsai said in the same interview. With these elements part of their identity, Taiwanese people do not need to dance to Beijing’s tune.

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TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty, Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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