Rebiya Kadeer and Taipei - The Ma government missteps

The Wall Street Journal
SEPTEMBER 28, 2009, 5:07 P.M. ET

Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou was elected last year largely to improve the island's economy through closer links with China. His government is misinterpreting that mandate to include closer ties with China's authoritarian politics, too.

There's no other way to interpret Taipei's decision to refuse an entry visa to Rebiya Kadeer. The Uighur activist was invited by a local rock star Wednesday to visit the island in December. The Ma government shut that idea down fast. Interior minister Chiang Yi-hua told parliamentarians Friday that Ms. Kadeer's World Uighur Congress "is related to terrorist groups" and thus couldn't visit the island. Premier Wu Den-yih added the decision was "in the best interests of Taiwan and its people."

These explanations don't add up. Taiwan doesn't explicitly categorize any Uighur group as a terrorist organization. Ms. Kadeer lives peacefully in Washington DC and her organization, which represents one of China's most oppressed minorities, has renounced violence. Other democracies, including Australia and Japan, have welcomed her to their shores without incident.

As for the claim that it's in citizens' "best interests" not to listen to Ms. Kadeer, surely that's a decision for the individual, not for the government, to make—a choice made possible in a democracy. Taiwan is home to a variety of pro- and anti-China groups, both of whose views are covered extensively in the island's lively media. Why not let Mrs. Kadeer present her evidence of China's brutal campaign against the Uighurs and then let citizens decide what they think?

By refusing Ms.Kadeer a visa—before she even applied, no less—the Ma government is appeasing China. Shortly after Ms. Kadeer's trip was announced, Chinese state-run media threatened to pull Beijing's support for Taiwan's membership in the World Health Organization and to halt cross-Strait economic liberalization. Beijing raised a similar fuss when Taipei let the Dalai Lama visit the island earlier this month to comfort victims of Typhoon Morakot.

Mr. Ma may believe that he's doing Taiwan a favor by acceding to threats in the short term to gain more economic integration with China down the road. But the real risk is that caving to authoritarian bullying will weaken Taiwan's bargaining power vis-a-vis Beijing while betraying the democratic values Taiwan stands for.