Taiwan leader offers to share democratic path with China

Tsai's comments, on Tiananmen anniversary, sure to irk Beijing

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (center) waves to the press while inspecting the Suao naval base in eastern Ilan county on June 4.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (center) waves to the press while inspecting the Suao naval base in eastern Ilan county on June 4. PHOTO: AFP

Taiwan's new President Tsai Ing- wen has a message for Beijing: There is nothing to fear about democracy.

In a Facebook post yesterday on the 27th anniversary of the June 4 Tiananmen incident, Ms Tsai offered to share Taiwan's democratisation experience with its giant communist neighbour.

"As President, I am not pointing fingers at the political system on the other side, but am genuinely, sincerely willing to share the democratisation experience of Taiwan," she said.

"If the other side is willing to give the mainland Chinese people more rights, people around the world will respect mainland China more."

Ms Tsai's offer is unlikely to be taken seriously by Beijing, which took steps yesterday to silence mention of the 1989 incident where its army cracked down on pro-democracy protesters, resulting in hundreds, if not thousands, of deaths.

China has since maintained that the students were engaging in a "counter-revolutionary rebellion".

Analyst Zheng Zhenqing of Tsinghua University in Beijing dismissed Ms Tsai's offer as "just rhetoric".

"How do you 'share' such things? Political reforms are not an apple to be carved up and shared in a meal."

On whether Ms Tsai's message was aimed more at burnishing her credentials at home, Mr Chang Pai- ta, a former deputy of the China Affairs Department in Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), said both DPP and Kuomintang politicians have urged Beijing to "correct its stance over Tiananmen". It is a "goodwill gesture" instead, he added.

But this will not go down well in Beijing, which continues to regard Ms Tsai with suspicion after her May 20 inauguration at which she did not accede to its demand to recognise a "one China" principle.

Ms Tsai's comments yesterday follow the first commemoration of the Tiananmen incident in Taiwan's Parliament on Friday.

While Taiwan and Hong Kong have held sombre ceremonies and vigils in the past week, China has kept a tight lid on such activities.

Security was high in Beijing yesterday. Six human rights activists have been detained since Thursday after they held a private commemoration ceremony, said a Chinese non-governmental organisation.

And, as in the past, the "Tiananmen Mothers", whose children died in the incident, were placed under heavy surveillance.

Ms Tsai drew parallels between the political journeys of China and Taiwan. While China has undoubtedly made progress in improving the material lives of its people, she said, political and societal reforms remain impeded. The Tiananmen incident, for instance, led to loss of lives, a loss of faith in reforms and mass emigration from China.

"Taiwan went through the same," she said, in an allusion to the four decades of martial law that ended in 1987.

"Because we trod a similar path, we can understand the desire of the students at Tiananmen Square for democracy and freedom."

Meanwhile, she said, her responsibility is to maintain the identity of the Taiwanese as a democratic and free people while also maintaining cross-strait peace and stability.

"Hopefully one day, both sides will have the same views on democracy and human rights."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 05, 2016, with the headline 'Taiwan leader offers to share democratic path with China'. Print Edition | Subscribe