(Lee Pin-hua, a senior correspondent working for a prestigious local newspaper and specializing in political news and cross-strait relations. Translated by Sophia Yang)
The World Uighur Congress President Rebiya Kadeer has recently been invited to visit Taiwan by a minor local political party, sparking discussions on whether to approve the visit of the exiled human rights activist. Kadeer's visit may touch a nerve in the cross-strait relationship, while the visit can act as a counterbalance to offset the growing disadvantages facing Taiwan in international political arena under China’s influence.
Kadeer was a successful businesswoman and millionaire in the 1980s and was once a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), which plays an important advisory role in state affairs. In 1996, her husband Sidik Haji Rouzi, then an associate professor, left China for the United States to work as a broadcaster for a radio station with a clear anti-China stance that led Kadeer to be removed from the CPPCC and even jailed on the charge of “passing on classified information to foreigners.”
Kadeer left prison after serving five years of an eight-year sentence on medical grounds; she then flew to the U.S. to join her family in Washington. In 2006, Kadeer became the president of the World Uighur Congress and has since been labeled as a separatist and terrorist by China.
The Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU), a pro-independence political party in Taiwan, said in January Kadeer has accepted its invitation and urged the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government and President Tsai Ing-wen to grant her a visa. Back in 2009, Tsai’s predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou, once rejected the visa application for Kadeer claiming she might have connections with terrorist groups, which incurred a backlash from the DPP saying Kadeer is a political refugee rather than a terrorist.
TSU’s invitation has created a dilemma for Tsai, as granting her a visa would literally be a slap in China’s face, making the deep-frozen cross-strait relationship even worse, while the other option would also not be a wise choice and self-contradictory.
However, the cloud has a silver lining to Tsai. Despite extending an olive branch to Beijing, the communist regime has still managed to sway Taiwan’s allies in Africa away. With that, Taiwan should take the opportunity to welcome Kadeer with open arms as a counter move, while in the meantime, letting Beijing know that Taiwan has cards to play. Or, the cross-strait communication channels shut down by Beijing since Tsai’s inauguration last May could be reopened ahead of the visit.
Of course, the consequence could be undesirable, but at least the move can break the impasse, given that China’s top official for talks with Taiwan, Chen Deming, has yet to respond to an invitation to visit Kinmen, a Taiwan-controlled island close to the mainland, from his Taiwanese counterpart Tien Hung-mao (田弘茂) for weeks.
Edited by Keoni Everington