Self-Censorship Not the Way Forward on Beijing: Taiwan Diplomat

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Beijing threatens Australian officials, lawmakers, and friends of Taiwan to discourage contact with its local diplomatic offices.

A Taiwanese diplomat has called on Australian institutions and public figures not to self-censor to appease an aggressive Beijing that seeks to stake its claim over the democratic island.

“Both Taiwan and Australia are countries that uphold democracy and freedom,” William Hou-Lu Fan, director-general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Brisbane, told The Epoch Times.

The diplomat said that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has spent years exerting its influence on local lawmakers and officials to keep quiet when it comes to engaging with Taiwan. However, he warned that complying with these demands only encourages the CCP to shut down further criticism of the regime.

“The governments and people of both countries should not fear authoritarian threats from the CCP but instead face challenges together. Concealing bullying will only allow the perpetrators to gain a further advantage and become more aggressive,” Mr. Fan added.

“Strengthening cooperation and communication with like-minded countries, both bilaterally and in the Indo-Pacific region, is crucial to collectively counteract authoritarian expansion and aggression,” he said.

Pressure on Local MPs, Communities to Stay Silent

Mr. Fan said the Taipei Office had encountered a range of interference from Beijing.

“The CCP has never abandoned the use of military force to take over Taiwan and, internationally, employs tactics such as infiltration, bribery, implanting spies, and intervention to restrict Taiwan’s international space, as well as suppress the representative offices of Taiwan in various countries.

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“Beijing threatens Australian officials, lawmakers, and friends of Taiwan, discouraging contact with this office. There are also reports of continuous influence attempts on Taiwanese organisations and its diaspora.”

Mr. Fan’s comments come after Tasmanian Professor Mark Harrison said the CCP could be ramping up pressure on Western governments to see the Taiwan issue “the correct way”—effectively toeing the Beijing party line.

“That’s an issue for us because our Taiwan policy has been very thin, and our policy systems are very risk-averse when it comes to Taiwan,” the professor said on Jan. 19, at an event co-hosted by the Griffith Asia Institute and the Australian Institute of International Affairs.

“And that makes them vulnerable to that kind of discourse power,” the professor from the University of Tasmania said.

The Question of Trade Over Human Rights

China absorbs a third of Australia’s exports, accounting for $180.9 billion of trade in 2021-22, making it the largest trading partner by far, with Japan coming second at $92.8 billion, and South Korea third at $48.8 billion.

The country is also the largest export market for New Zealand, Japan, Brazil, Indonesia, and South Korea, while being among the top markets for Germany, the United States, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

However, this means, that governments and businesses have spent decades walking a tightrope between maintaining economic interests, not trying to offend Beijing, and also taking a stand on human rights issues.

Public discussion on “sensitive issues” can be frowned upon by certain sections of society, including the higher education sector, which relies heavily on China for international students.

CCP-linked organisations have also been active in discouraging public protest or discourse on issues such as the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests, the Uyghurs, and the spiritual meditation practice Falun Gong.

Falun Gong is a spiritual practice of self-cultivation in the Buddhist tradition, and teaches truth, compassion, and forbearance (Zhen 真, Shan 善, Ren 忍 in Chinese)—deemed to be the underlying characteristics of the universe.

It was first introduced to the public in China in 1992 by founder Mr. Li Hongzhi. It spread rapidly, mostly by word-of-mouth, and by 1999, an official Chinese survey estimated that around 70 to 100 million people were practicing all across the country.

Believing the popularity of the spiritual practice to be a threat to his power and the atheistic ideology of the CCP, then-Party leader Jiang Zemin ordered the practice to be eradicated on July 20, 1999.

Since then, millions of Chinese people have been targeted by the regime for their faith; thousands have, or face, arbitrary detention, forced re-education, torture, or have been murdered for their vital organs.

At the same time, Beijing-linked media outlets produced hundreds of hours of propaganda to defame the practice, while CCP officials pressured, and encouraged, overseas institutions and governments to toe the party line.

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