Lee Ming-che’s Detention and Cross-strait Relations

Taiwanese activist went missing on March 19th while entering China from Macau. Chinese authorities eventually acknowledged that he was being held on suspicion of endangering national security. His distribution of political books and promotion of Taiwanese democracy on Wechat were identified as possible causes. Despairing of official and legal channels in the face of mainland stonewalling, Lee’s wife Lee Ching-yu announced that she would travel to Beijing to seek answers, but Beijing blocked the trip and sent an intermediary to meet her in an apparent attempt to intimidate her into silence. Her plan reportedly inspired an unsuccessful asylum application this week by Chinese anti-corruption campaigner Zhang Xianzhong, who had traveled to Taiwan with a tour group, and returned home with it on Wednesday.

At ChinaFile, New York University’s Jerome Cohen and Yu-Jie Chen offer a thorough examination of Lee’s case, including lingering uncertainty about his situation; the risk of in arbitrarily designated “national security” cases like his; Beijing’s freezing of cross-strait cooperation in response to ’s rejection of the one China principle; its failure to give prompt notice of Lee’s in accordance with a bilateral legal agreement; its warnings against outside intervention and the efforts of those with “ulterior motives” to “attack the mainland”; its use of an intermediary to approach Lee Ching-yu; and whether the whole affair arose accidentally, as this middleman suggested, “as a result of an overeager provincial security officer’s desire to win favor through strict enforcement of the new Foreign NGO Management Law.” They conclude:

Although it would be wise as well as humane for Beijing to release Lee Ming-che now, his case may have just begun. Yet its lessons are already worth considering. It vividly illustrates Beijing’s continuing determination to suspend the operation of important cross-strait agreements in the current political circumstances. It also exposes not only how little respect the Chinese Government has for even the minimal human rights protections enshrined in the Judicial Assistance Agreement but also the need to provide effective means for their enforcement. Beijing has met its agenda for the short term, which is to signal non-cooperation with Tsai Ing-wen’s government. The long-term consequences of destroying the reliability and legitimacy of cross-strait institutions, however, are not in its interest. If cross-strait agreements can be brushed aside by Beijing when considered politically inconvenient, they will no longer be trusted in Taiwan. What will then be left in Beijing’s toolkit for cross-strait cooperation and stability?

The case also demonstrates Beijing’s distinct preference for secret negotiations through unofficial intermediaries over transparent procedures in the administration of criminal justice and for unchecked incommunicado detention over international standards of due process of law. The apparent resort to “residential surveillance” precludes reliance on protections applicable to ordinary defendants.

The case seems to be an example of bureaucratic bungling due to central-local tensions and lack of coordination between overlapping agencies, and it is a warning to outsiders about the new risks they may incur in promoting human rights in China. No matter what the outcome, it has seriously worsened cross-strait relations and China’s chances for attaining “soft power.”

As [’s] Mayor Ko rightly noted, China’s handling of the Lee case provides insight into why, despite all the benefits that China offers Taiwan, Beijing is not winning the hearts and minds of Taiwanese. [Source]

Taipei Times’ Sean Lin reported last week on Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je’s warning that the “strange” incident would alienate Taiwan’s public, to possibly highly visible effect at August’s Summer Universiade in the island’s capital:

“It is very simple. The Chou Tzu-yu (周子瑜) incident probably scared off half of Taiwanese, while the Lee Ming-che incident scared off the other half,” Ko said, refering to a seemingly forced apology by the Taiwanese K-pop idol after she displayed a Republic of China flag on a South Korean TV show last year. [Read more via CDT.]

“Maybe they do not find it unusual, but to Taiwanese it was beyond shock and awe,” Ko said, adding that the two incidents showed a fundamental difference between Taiwanese and Chinese beliefs, which is an issue Beijing should be mindful of.

[…] Ko said that although Taipei’s extensive experience with dealing with protesters is enough to guarantee the safety of Chinese [Universiade] delegates, he cannot control public sentiments toward the delegation.

“Who do you think spectators will root for if China and US went head-to-head in a match?” he asked.

Taiwanese attitudes toward the Chinese delegation would have a profound political effect on Beijing and the world through live broadcast of the Games, he said. [Source]

On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch urged China to release Lee, and highlighted his detention’s place in a series of similar recent incidents:

“Chinese authorities have offered no credible evidence for the grave allegations against Li Ming-Che,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should immediately notify Li’s family of his whereabouts, and allow his family and lawyer to visit him.”

[…] Since President Xi Jinping came to power in March 2013, authorities have apprehended citizens of other countries – inside and outside China – for their work helping Chinese human rights lawyers and or for speaking critically of Chinese leaders. Those detained include a Swedish human rights activist, ; , a bookseller also from Sweden; James Wang, an American businessman; and , a British bookseller. Some of the detainees had also been forced to give confessions on state media. Authorities have also used to vilify detained journalists, bloggers, activists and lawyers, and increasingly have used national security charges to prosecute and imprison activists solely for their peaceful criticism of the Chinese government.

Under international law, a government commits an enforced disappearance when state agents take a person into custody and then deny holding the person, or conceal or fail to disclose the person’s whereabouts. “Disappeared” people are often at high risk of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. The use of televised confessions violates the right to a fair trial and can often be linked to torture or other ill-treatment.

“Beijing’s persecution of those who work to advance human rights and justice in China increasingly targets non-citizens,” Richardson said. “Repeatedly levelling national security charges against peaceful activists marks another alarming escalation in Xi’s campaign against human rights.” [Source]