Taiwan demands answers on Chinese arrest of rights activist

Relations between China and self-ruling Taiwan have deteriorated since last year

Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen watches a live-fire drill in Magong on May 25th. Photograph: Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images

Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen watches a live-fire drill in Magong on May 25th. Photograph: Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images


Officials in self-ruled Taiwan have requested details about China’s arrest of Taiwanese human-rights activist Lee Ming-che on a state subversion charge and said his detention would further damage already strained relations.

Chinese state security officers have held Mr Lee since March 19th for “developing an action plan to subvert the nation’s state power”, the Chinese government’s Taiwan Affairs Office said last week.

It’s the first time someone from Taiwan has been charged with state subversion by mainland China. The charge is a commonly used pretext in China for arresting political dissidents, human-rights defenders and democracy activists.

Although Taiwan is self-ruled, China sees it as a province that is an inalienable part of its territory and has threatened to invade the island should it ever try to declare independence.

The official Chinese news agency Xinhua, which reflects central government views, said an investigation into Mr Lee showed he had colluded with mainlanders, stipulated action guidelines, established illegal organisations and plotted and carried out activities to subvert state power.

Mr Lee had reportedly used the social-media platform WeChat to inform people about Taiwan’s democracy, and he also helped human-rights lawyers.

Deteriorating relations

Relations across the Taiwan Strait have deteriorated since the election last year of Tsai Ing-wen as president. Her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has traditionally leaned towards independence, and China shut down all channels of communication after her inaugural speech did not back the “One China Policy”, which sees Taiwan as part of China and which Beijing insists must be the basis for cross-strait relations.

The DPP beat the Nationalist KMT, which has favoured closer ties with the mainland, even though the KMT and China’s Communist Party were bitter rivals in the civil war. When the KMT lost the war, Chiang Kai-shek’s KMT fled to Taiwan.

Mr Lee was initially arrested after he crossed into China from Macau in order to gain information about medical care for his mother-in-law. His wife, Lee Ching-yu, was barred from travelling to China and later took her campaign to the United States.

Mr Lee formerly worked for the DPP. The party said in a statement that judicial proceedings should be transparent, that he should be allowed a legal team and his relatives should be given access to visit him.

Xinhua quoted experts in Beijing saying that Mr Lee was guilty.

“Investigation by national security organs showed that Lee has violated the 105th clause of the criminal law,” Li Weiyi, a Taiwan affairs professor with Beijing Union University, told Xinhua.

“It is not allowed [for anybody] to violate the mainland’s law and harm national security at any time,” he added.

Organisers of an annual vigil to commemorate the bloody crackdown on democracy protests centred on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989 said Mr Lee’s arrest would be a focal point of this year’s 28th anniversary event.