Editorial: Goodwill has to come from China’s side

Zhou Hongxu, the Chinese citizen indicted for spying in Taiwan (photo from his Facebook page).

Taipei City Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) returned home from the Taipei-Shanghai Forum last week with apparently positive news. Not only did he meet with his counterpart from China’s largest city, but he also succeeded in meeting an official from the central government, Taiwan Affairs Office (國台辦) chief Zhang Zhijun (張志軍).

The encounter between a communist government member and a Taiwanese mayor seen as part of the “green” pro-independence camp at first might give the impression that détente is afoot between the two sides.

After President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and her Democratic Progressive Party administration took office in May last year, China deliberately set out to end contacts with her government, even though she stuck to her promise to maintain the status quo in cross-straits relations.

In Shanghai, Ko described Taiwan and China as a family looking for a community of common destiny, with quarrels similar to those between a married couple.

While the mayor’s descriptions might have produced smiles on the faces of his Chinese audience, they did not meet with the same enthusiasm back in Taiwan, where one DPP politician even suggested that the party should distance itself from Ko and nominate a separate candidate in next year’s mayoral election.

Another Taiwanese citizen, Lee Ming-che (李明哲), has been spending less happy times in China. He has been detained since March 19, supposedly for subversive activities, but the only positive news to arrive about his fate has not been coming from China, but from Europe.

The United Nations Human Rights Office Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has agreed to investigate Lee’s case, though a result is only likely to be presented in September, and with China as a member of the Security Council, it remains to be seen how far the body will be willing to go.

Separately, the European Parliament approved a motion Thursday in which it had combined Lee with the release of seriously ill Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. The motion calls “on the Chinese authorities to provide evidence related to the case of Lee Ming-che or to release him immediately; to ensure in the meantime that Lee Ming-che is protected from torture and other ill-treatment and that he is allowed access to his family, a lawyer of his choice and adequate medical care.”

It should be China’s responsibility to come forward with adequate information about the Taiwanese citizen’s fate, in particular his health, and to allow his wife to visit him, yet it has failed to give her the necessary travel documents, in effect flouting the Cross-Strait Joint Crime-Fighting and Judicial Mutual Assistance Agreement concluded between the two countries.

As if that were not enough evidence of China’s lack of goodwill, Beijing has also been using former Chinese students in Taiwan as spies.

On July 6, prosecutors indicted Zhou Hongxu (周泓旭), who spent four years on MBA studies at National Chengchi University, for violating the National Security Act as he tried to buy off an official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by offering him cash and overseas trips in return for confidential information. The official reported the 29-year-old to the authorities, who arrested him last March.

The latest spy scandal comes on top of the continuous diplomatic tension as Beijing is exerting pressure, both on Taiwan’s official diplomatic allies but also on trading partners. Last month’s decision by Panama to switch recognition to China was soon followed by Nigeria’s extreme behavior, sending armed police to shut down Taiwan’s trade office and force it to move out of the capital and change its name.

Even on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong, Beijing missed all the opportunities. The event was not a carnival of freedom and democracy, but a feast with a high level of intimidation. Military parades were followed by a trip down from Qingdao for the aircraft carrier Liaoning, which caught the attention of Taiwan’s Armed Forces.

If Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) assumed those events will entice Taiwan to accept the “One Country, Two Systems” formula, then he must be deluded.

At least, there is ample evidence that Taiwan is not buckling under pressure, as the government approved a measure Thursday barring military officers from visiting China until after years past the start of their retirement.

In previous years, retired senior officers traveled to China to attend strongly communist-flavored historic commemoration ceremonies, a scene which enraged many who felt those were the soldiers who were supposed to defend Taiwan against the communist threat.

Senior military staff, but also former government officials who served in sensitive positions, such as foreign ministers and directors of intelligence agencies, will not be allowed to take part in political activities in China for 15 years after their retirement. If they disregard the ban, they could lose their monthly pension and be fined.

The 1,000 retirees who will be affected are also not allowed to attend events attended by China’s top leaders or to salute communist symbols or sing communist songs.

Government officials and military officers who had access to classified information will be barred from visiting China for three years after retirement, a restriction which was handled on a flexible basis before, with approval from their own department possible.

The amendments are not a sign of deteriorating cross-straits relations, but were called for several years ago, without any government taking any action until now.

China must understand that it cannot get away with its recent actions without consequences, and Taiwan’s government cannot let Beijing demean the island’s sovereignty and standing without defending its interests.

It is time for China to show goodwill, or opportunities like Ko’s trip will become even rarer, with Beijing wasting the last of its already quickly shrinking credit with Taiwan’s population.