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Ties that Blind

Author: Jerome A. Cohen, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Asia Studies
November 13, 2008
South China Morning Post


Last week's historic visit to Taiwan by Beijing's cross-strait chief, Chen Yunlin , which culminated in four useful agreements, focused attention on issues of human rights as well as politics. Some issues concerned the proper government response to public protests in a free society. Others involved fair investigation of former and present government leaders suspected of corruption.

Chinese have recognised the importance of protecting foreign envoys for almost 3,000 years. The feudal states that contended for power before establishment of the Qin dynasty reciprocally assured the personal safety of their emissaries. Such protection has continued to be indispensable to inter-state co-operation.

After police in Tainan failed to prevent an assault on Mr Chen's deputy, president Ma Ying-jeou's government was obligated to do better during Mr Chen's visit. Although police could not prevent Mr Chen from being trapped in a hotel for eight hours by a huge mob of protesters, they did defend him against bodily harm throughout a stressful week.

In doing so, they went beyond the limits of a free society, forbidding peaceful protesters from displaying Taiwanese and Tibetan flags, confiscating flags from demonstrators, closing a store that played Taiwanese songs and seeking to minimise the visitors' awareness of the protests. There were also incidents of police brutality, albeit sometimes in response to violent provocations by demonstrators.

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