The visit and the CCP’s reaction, with the Chinese Ambassador to France predicting that all Taiwanese will need “re-education,” may help the cause of human rights in China. But a follow-up is needed.
by Marco Respinti
The visit to Taiwan by the Speaker of the US House, Nancy Pelosi, and her meeting with the Republic of China’s President, Tsai Ing-wen, on August 3, 2022, are still causing reactions and roars. China is outraged. It defined the trip a blatant and futile provocation, immediately started military drills in the region, interrupted any dialogue with the United Stated, threatened “serious consequences,” and even sanctioned Pelosi.
In the West, Pelosi’s trip ignited conflicting evaluations as well. This is not surprising, but what is less common is that the reactions did not follow the usual political or even party lines, and both pros and cons had a somewhat bipartisan support.
Pelosi’s trip gained favor and even enthusiasm from both right and left among those who are decided to stop and roll back the Chinese Communist threat in the region and in the whole world, advocating for human rights, democracy, and religious liberty.
On the other front, opponents of Pelosi judged her trip an unnecessary provocation. A minority did it for ideological sympathy with the PPC, the majority for different reasons that can be summed up by the theory that China should not be provoked.
Some opponents from the right side of the political spectrum commented that Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan had more to do with US domestic policy than foreign affairs. Two groups emerge in this lot. One says it was just propaganda in sight of the US mid-term election of November 8, 2022, with the Democratic Party (of which Pelosi is one of the leaders) in need of winning as much undecided vote as possible, during a crucial campaign in what is now journalistically called “post-Roe America.”
They mean that the Democrats, to avoid focusing on controversial domestic topics only, may try to attract the voters’ attention on different subjects. Taiwan’s cause may serve well this aim, maybe also in an attempt to gain favors with those holding an American passport in the Chinese, Uyghur, and Tibetan diaspora.
The other group of opponents from the right side regards the trip as an answer to those who regard the Biden administration as weak in foreign policy, and to the Trump supporters who claim that the former president was more effective in containing China. These forms of criticism differ, but what they have in common is that they see Pelosi’s motivations as mostly connected to American domestic politics.
These are political considerations, a field Bitter Winter normally tries to avoid. Our field is human rights and religious liberty. Would Pelosi’s trip benefit or damage the cause of human rights in Mainland China?
Communist China is a totalitarian regime that occupied most of the country out of a civil war and a coup that swamped its population in blood. Human rights violations and systematic trespass on religious liberty are the daily bread of Communist China. Taiwan has at least taken the road to democracy. There are religious liberty and human rights problems in Taiwan too, and Bitter Winter denounces them openly, as evidenced by its coverage of the “Tai Ji Men case.” But at least, within a democratic country like Taiwan there is room for transitional justice rectifying the wrongdoings of the past, protest, and discussion. Nobody is allowed to take to the streets and protest in China.
Seen in this light, Pelosi’s trip may be read as a statement that a Chinese way to democracy is possible, Taiwan is a living testimony to it, and the United States will support it. Protecting Taiwan against Beijing’s threats is a way of affirming the primacy of human rights. Other countries are moving, or may move, in the same direction. The Indian press’ attitude to Taiwan, for example, signals a certain shift after Pelosi’s trip.
China’s own reaction to the trip may indeed support the conclusion that the alternative is between defending Taiwan and allowing the Beijing regime to prepare another human rights catastrophe. Millions of Uyghurs are “re-educated” in Xinjiang (which its non-Han inhabitants prefer to call East Turkestan) in the dreaded transformation through education camps, but in the case of Taiwan a senior Chinese diplomat has suggested that the “re-education ” after the island’s “return” to China may well involve the entire population.
In an interview with French broadcaster LCI, Chinese ambassador to France Lu Shaye said re-education would be required because the government in Taipei had “indoctrinated and intoxicated” the population with anti-Chinese education for decades. “Why do I say ‘re-educate’? Because the authorities of Taiwan have made an education of ‘desinicisation’ on its population, which is effectively indoctrinated and intoxicated. It must be re-educated to eliminate separatist thought and secessionist theory,” the ambassador said.
Whether Pelosi’s trip would be seen in the future as contributing to the cause of human rights in China would of course depend on its follow-up and the attitude of the United States, Europe, and the Asian democratic countries towards Taiwan. Beyond this looms the difficult question of the United Nations Security Council and the veto power of non-democratic states such as Russia and China. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led many to call for a reform of the Security Council, which was clearly manipulated by the Putin regime during the Ukrainian crisis. China’s role in that institution is not less dangerous.