Little was reported in western media a few weeks ago as Lee Ming-Che (李明哲), “pled guilty” in a Chinese trial in which allegations were that he had written articles “intended to subvert the state’s power.”
To look at this trial as merely another example of the Chinese Government cracking down on political dissidents is missing the point: The Chinese Communist Party has a long history of cracking down on dissent, but this one is especially problematic. Lee Ming-Che, a citizen of the Republic of China (Taiwan), not the People’s Republic of China, was abducted by the Chinese while traveling through Macau into mainland China. In essence, China is using this trial as a geopolitical maneuver to declare that Taiwan is within it’s jurisdiction.
All of this comes at a period when tensions in the Asia-Pacific are higher than they’ve been in modern history. The leading headlines of Asia tensions are the way that Trump and Kim Jong-Un launch insults across the Pacific as the world frantically tries to deescalate, lest those words become something more radioactive. Caught in the crossfire are China, Japan, South Korea, and even Russia as the UN Security Council voted to tighten economic sanctions on North Korea, hopefully persuading them to sit down at the negotiating table but more likely only angering them more.
The US now finds itself in a tight spot, as there is no way to solve the North Korean problem without the cooperation of China, despite the human rights violations, nationalism, and economic protectionism that China is currently committing. To think that this is the first time the US is overlooking China’s transgressions in order to achieve some other objective would be completely incorrect: the US has turned a blind eye to China’s misdeeds since the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
Today, China-US relations has undoubtedly grown into the most important bilateral international relationship on the planet, and yet the west, including liberals and the media, have an extremely fragmented and incomplete understanding of Asia-Pacific issues. (Most Americans couldn’t even find North Korea on a map)
The Progressive Paradox of Taiwan-US Relations
Taiwan is easily the most progressive place in Asia. It’s a young, vibrant democracy with a large range of political views and representations. Socially, Taiwan is a place that has a national healthcare system, strong public education system, and a deep commitment to combating climate change. Additionally, In recent years Taiwan has made significant strides toward LGBT and Women’s rights, more so than any other country in Asia.
Admittedly, Taiwan’s history is far from perfect either. From the massacre of thousands of people on February 28, 1947, to martial law from 1949 to 1987, and other incidents, Taiwan’s transformation to what it is today is less than 30 years old. But if this isn’t the epitome of a progressive’s global dream, I’m not sure what is.
And yet, Taiwan is hardly recognized on the world stage. It has no representation in the UN, no official US embassy, and has to participate in the Olympics as “Chinese Taipei”. In fact, North Korea is more widely recognized internationally than Taiwan is, despite having a history just as complex.
Taiwan is the progressive counterpart to China’s increasingly authoritarian regime, but written off because of China’s larger geographic and population footprint combined with China’s demands of an eventual reunification of two territories that have been historically distinctly sovereign.
However, despite Taiwan being practically the perfect cause for liberals to embrace, the most ardent supporters of Taiwan in the US happen to be conservatives who see supporting Taiwan as a way to curb China’s reckless expansion in the Asia-Pacific. It baffles me why the American left has not taken up Taiwan’s cause, and is often more pro-China than expected.
Standing Up to China
There’s no denying China’s economic growth over the past 20 years: It’s expansive, all-encompassing, and sharply competitive. Every industry is impacted in some way by China’s economic development as it positions itself as a global trading partner and investor in the whole world. It’s impossible to ignore the tenacity in which the Chinese government is pushing China to dominate all areas.
However, as China’s exploding economy pulls more people into the middle class at an unprecedented rate in history, Chinese leaders are clamping down politically, heavily censoring instances in which China is achieving economic activity through the exploitation of it’s own people, of which there are many.
While there is a fair debate as to how much the international community should criticize domestic issues in other countries, the case of Lee Ming-Che is an international one. The international community, especially western democratic nations, should amplify and pressure China to release Lee Ming-Che.
To sit back and let yet another egregious violation of human rights and rule of law happen is not a precedent we want to set.