In a subtle dig into China, Pelosi visits the Taiwan Human Rights Museum

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TAIPEI, Taiwan — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with prominent human rights advocates in China on Tuesday during her visit to the National Museum of Human Rights in Taipei, after pointing out the stark contrast between Taiwan’s democratic reforms and the Chinese Communist Party’s intolerance of dissent.

The museum has a collection of documents, oral histories and archives related to the White Terror – a nearly four-decade period of martial law that included repression, violence and imprisonment by the Nationalist Party government ( Kuomintang or KMT) against those perceived to be against its rule.

February marked the 75th anniversary of the February 28 or 228 Incident – ​​a 1947 massacre in which the KMT killed up to 28,000 Taiwanese civilians following an attempted uprising led by those angered by exclusion from politics and business under the Chinese nationalist regime.

A 38-year period of martial law followed, which also brought silence to the massacre. As late as the 1980s, pro-democracy activism or calls for formal Taiwan independence led to arrests by KMT security agents, often under the guise of chasing communists.

The tour included a lecture by Chen Chu, chairwoman of the Taiwan Human Rights Council and chairwoman of Control Yuan, the government’s oversight and hearing arm. She was a prominent political prisoner held and tried at Jing-Mei Detention Center during a 1979 crackdown on democracy activists.

Made on the first trip to Taiwan by a Speaker of the United States House in 25 years and amid strong opposition from Beijing, Pelosi’s tour of the facility was also an apparent dig at the Communist Party’s extensive efforts. China to erase the memory of dark times in its history, as part of its longstanding criticism of human rights abuses in China.

During the visit, she met Wu’erkaixi, a former student leader of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, Lam Wing-Kee, a Hong Kong bookseller and editor of critical Chinese Communist Party texts, and Lee Ming- che, a Taiwanese activist who was released in April after five years in prison in China.

Global attention to Taiwan’s democracy and improving human rights record is a way to debunk China’s claims that liberal multi-party democracy is not suited to Chinese society, said Lee in an interview. “I hope the United States government, as a leader in global democracy, can take concrete steps to help Taiwan resist the Chinese military threat,” he said.

Lin Chuan-kai, a researcher in the Department of Sociology at National Sun Yat-sen University who studies Taiwan’s White Terror era, said he was unhappy that the museum’s importance was reduced to “mere demonstration of values” aimed at China, rather than a chance to advance human rights in Taiwan.

“The focus of this visit was the CCP’s use of political violence to violate human rights,” he said, adding that the three people Pelosi met were primarily involved in the fight for human rights in China, not in Taiwan.

In a Tweeter after the visit, Pelosi said she went to the museum as a “tribute to the heroes who suffered and fought for Taiwanese democracy.” At a press conference earlier today, she said one of the purposes of the trip was to show the world Taiwan’s “courage to change its own country to become more democratic”, in stark contrast to the situation in China, particularly in Hong Kong.

The Chinese Communist Party’s security crackdown in the former British colony, using strict national security legislation to limit freedom of speech and assembly, has highlighted Taiwan’s position as the last place in the world of Chinese language to host an annual commemoration of the victims of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

But human rights activists in Taiwan are often more concerned with repairing the trauma of Kuomintang martial law than preserving the memory of events in China, reflecting a growing sense of Taiwanese identity among younger generations.

“A successful road to human rights for the people of Taiwan will not come because we proudly show Pelosi our report card and have it recognized by her,” said National Sun Yat-sen University scholar Lin. .

Opened in 2018, the museum’s collections serve as a “reminder of the paths taken to achieve Taiwan’s free and democratic society today,” notes its website. The purpose of establishing it in a former detention center and military court in Taipei’s Jing-Mei district was “to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past and to deepen the concepts of democracy and human rights in each individual mind”.

On a normal day, visitors can walk around the old prison, tour soldiers’ cells and barracks, or listen to testimonies from former inmates about their imprisonment and interrogation in telephone booths once used for visitors.

The Kuomintang first took control of Taiwan in 1945 after Japan surrendered to the Allies, ending 50 years of colonial rule in Taiwan. But the decades of KMT rule to follow – the Republic of China government fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing the Chinese Civil War to the Communists – were marred by periods of violence and political repression.

A process of democratization was launched in 1987 and began a gradual settlement with the past, led largely by the Democratic Progressive Party, which was formed from a group of writers, intellectuals and lawyers who challenged Kuomintang rule.

In May this year, the Transitional Justice Commission concluded a four-year effort to investigate the actions of the Kuomintang from 1945 to 1992, which exonerated thousands of political prisoners at the time and recommended that symbols of the authoritarianism be suppressed or displaced. (Many statues of KMT leader Chiang Kai-shek, for example, have been placed in a single park.)

The creation of public spaces of commemoration like the museum and 228 Memorial Park in 1997 contrasts sharply with efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to strictly limit historical research or public discussion of past traumas from the mass famine of the late 1990s. 1950 caused by a disastrous industrial policy and Mao Zedong’s tumultuous Cultural Revolution.

Today, the human rights movement in China has been driven underground by a dissent-intolerant regime under Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Three decades after Tiananmen Square, Chinese women activists struggle to publicly defend feminism or workers’ rights, let alone political reform.

Wu’erkaixi, the former Tiananmen leader now based in Taipei, said in an interview that Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan is itself the biggest message that the US is committed to standing up to Chinese autocracy. , walking away from what he called bad politics. ignore China’s threats to democracy. “I urge the United States to right its wrongs, come back, and join Taiwan in standing up for human rights and democracy,” he said.

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